Selly Oak struggles with Casualties

Demand for military hospital grows as UK's single ward for war-wounded struggles with casualties
By MATTHEW HICKLEY - More by this author »

Last updated at 23:12pm on 16th August 2007

Demand for a dedicated military hospital grew yesterday amid an overcrowding crisis at the country's only ward set aside for soldiers.

MPs and veterans spoke out as rising casualty rates put intolerable pressure on the single NHS ward at Selly Oak Hospital, Birmingham.

It has just 14 beds - yet, in the last month alone, 145 personnel have been flown back from Afghanistan and Iraq for treatment.

Selly Oak hospital in Birmingham has just 14 beds on the ward for soldiers

The dedicated "military-managed" ward, with uniformed military nurses working alongside NHS staff, was set up before Christmas following complaints from soldiers who found themselves on ordinary wards, isolated from their comrades and surrounded by civilians with no understanding of the terrors of war.

But now officials admit the unit is too small for the numbers of battlefield casualties, and the overflow has had to be treated on ordinary mixed NHS wards.

The revelations come amid claims from the Royal British Legion that Britain's "military covenant" - which supposedly guarantees fair treatment for fighting troops - is being broken.

Campaigners last night said that wounded heroes - many of whom have lost limbs or eyes - are being left with "the crumbs from the NHS".

Selly Oak has been the main receiving centre for casualties since 2001 as the closure of the old dedicated military hospitals gathered pace.

The last, at Haslar near Portsmouth, shut earlier this year.

Ministers claimed the move would improve care by giving troops access to more highly-skilled NHS staff.

But at Selly Oak, one soldier described waking up to find himself surrounded by "old women and drug addicts", while there were reports of a Para being confronted by a Muslim man who accused him of "killing my Muslim brothers".

The head of the Army, General Sir Richard Dannatt, declared mixed military-civilian wards to be unacceptable.

Falklands veteran Simon Weston said yesterday: "We should build a bigger unit for these people, and ideally it should be a separate military wing or building.

"If in years to come we no longer need it, then fine - give it back to the NHS. But our boys shouldn't be living off the crumbs from the NHS like this."

Major General Patrick Cordingley, who led the Desert Rats in the 1991 Gulf War, said: "When I visited Selly Oak recently, I found there was no space for wounded men to sit together and 'decompress', as the military call it - to let off steam as soldiers do without worrying about offending anyone, to share their experiences and draw strength from each other.

"Selly Oak is a model that could be made to work much better, but it needs proper money spending on it."

Shadow Defence Secretary Liam Fox said: "The men and women of our Armed Forces deserve the best medical care. Anything less will be seen as yet another breach of the military covenant."

A Ministry of Defence spokesman confirmed that some troops are housed outside the Selly Oak ward, but said each one still has a dedicated military nurse.

The "overflow" space is close to the military unit, he added.

Plans are being considered to increase the number of dedicated beds from 14 to 34, he said.

• Suicides in the U.S. army soared to 17.3 per 100,000 soldiers last year, up from 12.8 in 2005, the Pentagon said. That is more than 50 per cent higher than the rate among civilians.

Nearly 30 of last year's 101 suicides were in Iraq or Afghanistan. There were two suicides in the 100,000-strong British Army in 2006
very interesting about what General Cordingley said about "decompressing" if they don't i can see these soldiers suffering from mental problems that have been caused by bottling up anger/anxiety or even just wanting to talk to someone who has been in the same situation as him and not have to worry about being pc or druggies pestering them.

We are fighting two major wars and yet we only have one pathetic ward to care for our warriors.


it could be petition time again if there already isn't one
Not good but not unexpected? The Mil wing as stated is small. It was only a matter of time before they ran out of room. This isn't the hospitals fault and I have no doubt that if there was a Mil hospital available then the issue would be a smaller one.

I disagree with the the dedicated Mil hospital (still). I think that we need numerous wards around the country (enabling injured soldiers to be near their families) that can be opened and closed to the military as required. We don't have the medical services available to staff a Mil hospital and are unlikely to get them. Why not use existing facilities? Staff it with both Civi and Mil staff, everyone gains experience and the Injured recieve medical attention that they need. Our own hospital would be usefull, however the government couldn't justify the cost when not full of injured troops. RH Haslar was used as an A+E for the local population and is sorely missed. Previous threads have highlighted the wards which are closed but full of equipment. Re-open the damm things!
With the amount of ward closures recently it would be relatively simple to create space for military wards, it's done every year with 'winter pressure' beds. If the NHS can open and close beds at whim to meet targets then surely, if the political will was there it could be done for servicemen. Staffing might be harder though, they might have to start enticing nurses back from oz :!:
Forgive me If I am wrong but I still think the Military Hospitals should be open to treat our men and women coming home injured from the likes of Iraq and Afghan, putting them in a General Hospital is not on.... t's not the anwer!!
devilsharris said:
With the amount of ward closures recently it would be relatively simple to create space for military wards, it's done every year with 'winter pressure' beds. If the NHS can open and close beds at whim to meet targets then surely, if the political will was there it could be done for servicemen. Staffing might be harder though, they might have to start enticing nurses back from oz :!:
Hey, we just got here!!

My mrs is a Nurse and I'm a Paramedic. We've been in Queensland Australia for 4 months now. Therfe are loads of pommy nurses here, the Ambulance Service here also plans to recruit up to 750 UK Paramedics over 3 years.

I think the Aussies have realised that they can get quality staff who are P*ssed off with the current NHS workload/practices.
I think when they drew up the plans for closing the remaining Military hospitals,they did'nt forsee the increase in casualties on Ops.
Could'nt they take the initial casualties to Wegberg in Germany?Is Wegberg still open?
Wegburg is open only in an administrative capacity only - full of SSAFA and welfare groups, dont think it has a bed capacity anymore. most Mil hosp have been closed down since BLIAR.... There is/was a hospital sitting above swindon which would be ideal for troops coming back via Lyneham and Brize, but alas that is shut also...........Maybe when troops start sueing the government for lack of duty of care then maybe they may have a re-think.
We all seem to be expressing the same feelings here. Mostly disillusionment, disapointment and disgust that military personnel who have voluntarily put themselves in harms way to a far greater extent than any other section of our society can be treated in a way that falls so far short of what the most unselfish of them would extpect. It is bad enough that the NHS is in such a parlous state without the people of whom we have asked so much having to suffer further in these conditions.
Over time I have visited many of our military hospitals run by all three services and have been a patient in two, one army and one RAF. They were always immaculate and well run. In fact, as late as 1995 I recall the standards being akin to those in the days of "the Matron" that the media keep ranting on about. These hospitals were excellent and in most cases took some of the burden off the NHS. If truth be told and we needed to reduce the number as the overall force size was cut, the only reason we now have none is financial. We are one of the richest countries in the world but waste so much money on ne'er do wells and foreign spongers that we can't afford to care for people who deserve it (and that's not just a military thing is it?).
The facillities still exist so let's use them.
It's time Mrs Brown's wee boy (and his namesake) took notice of the facts and recognised the false economies he is responsible for as he wastes priceless assets (our lads and lasses serving and those who will not now join).
spike7451 said:
...Could'nt they take the initial casualties to Wegberg in Germany?Is Wegberg still open?
Surely it is bad enough that friends and relatives have to travel from all over the country, and from further afield, to visit wounded personnel at Selly Oak? But at least it is fairly central within the UK. Wegberg would make things even more tricky.
I left the Local Ambulance Service to Selly Oak Hospital last year after 20yrs service, previously to that I was in the Infantry for 4 yrs. Selly Oak over the years has struggled more and more to cope with the demands placed on it due to the number of other hospitals that have been closed down for 'Political/financial reasons. It is not uncommon for ambulances to wait in excess of 2 hrs to unload civvy patients due to the backlog of casualty and lack of beds on wards to move them on to.

Fortunatley our boys can bypass the log-jam.

Selly Oak is an old hospital that is seriously stuggling for space and has a variety of buildings spreadout across the grounds; some of which bare an uncanny resemblence to the old type Barrack blocks at Whitiington & Tidworth etc. They could dedicate at least one of these 'isolated' building to the military which would give them 4 wards.

Squaddies have a language & terminology of their own and a totally different sense of humour and perspective on life; civvies that have never served just don't understand it and thats why the guys need to have their own dedicated hospital.

Selly Oak is a good Hospital and has a long tradition in helping with training for combat medics (Boys in the black stuff etc).

I spent some time at the RAF Hosptal at Wroughton (Now Closed) for Malaria caught in Kenya along with a number of opo's It was good to have mates around you just for that so god only knows the bennifits for the guys coming back from Iraq/AFG. Plus the place was spotlessly clean!

AS a foot note a friends son (Working for a yank Company - ex Royal Irish) was treated there after being caught in a rocket blast, his injuries were quite bad but were treated really well - Then he caught MRSA! with so much dross going in and out of the general hospital it's inevitable.

Just can't see MRSA happening in a dedicated Military Hosptal.

Sorry if the terminology is a bit out of date but I've been out for a loooong time, but still want the very best for the military... I live in hope :(

Stag On!
:evil: Bloody disgusting, 14 beds do the injured have to play musical beds? This is typical of Politicians they are only SNIVEL SERVANTS with big egos.and liars to boot, see BLiar is said to get 8million quid for his book,keep up the pressure write to the papers give them ammo to fire at the bastards, even Tories would sort this out, remember when Charles hurt his arm at polo got a whole ward to himself, seems that the cannon fodder does not count for much in little britain and expendable :evil:
The staff at selly oak are cracking (up there a week ago seeing a mate)
the place is OK but the lack of stress counselling is already winding my mate up. He was quite badly injured so is still there after three weeks. the staff seem pretty much overstretched and have little time to provide anything other than medical care, no time for quiet chats, trick cyclists have little or no time to see everyone.
It just leaves an impression of Superb staff, very clean but with much less time than in an NHS hospital. (I should know my missus spent 3 days in after coming off her mountain bike the weekend before)
Can I also say that it was at the same time one of the most depressing and uplifting experiences of my life.
rows of fine young men with bits missing but still with the sense of humour.
it brought a tear to my eye I can tell you
bless the lot of you lads.
The poster ~COW disagrees with a dedicated Military Hospital. I wonder if it's because she's in Brum? [Selly Oak?]
At the risk of offending the regulars on here I will repeat once again that France has FIFTEEN [15] Military Hospitals, one of which is a Teaching Hospital.........we have ZERO. They do not have a problem treating [v.well] their military patients...........We do. I find the whole situation............[insert your own expletives] awful.
Thread edited.

Please keep it serious and sane guys, I suspect this is the next big story.

I think everyone is in agreement that the staff at Selly Oak do a dynamite job with the resources they have available.

In the sort term, we do need to have beds unblocked. The problem is, that there will have to be additional funding to enable this. I think UNISON have made loud noises on this before.

In the short term, if re-financing can come from local authorities, with a promise of refunding from Central Government, or at least the equivalent reduction in payments to Central Government , then it is possible.

As regards Nursing staff, there are more than enough to cover in the West Midlands, though they may have to be paid at agency rates.

Possibly look at the use of utilising private hospitals like the Nuffield?

Yes I am suggesting a 'quick fix' to a longer term problem, but right now, our injured need a quick fix.

I'd hate to read stories of our people left on trolleys for hours, whilst a bed was being sorted.

Once we can get beds unblocked, we can start to work towards the big picture.

But right now, we need to unblock the beds.

So serious and practical suggestions and ideas please guys. Leave the rants to another day?


In October the then PM stood up during PMQ's and said this issue had been resolved and service personnel would now be treated in dedicated service only wards. Both Twigg & his part time boss Browne have stated this to be the case. These people appear to be lying to the country and being allowed to get away with it. I have been trying to get to the bottom of this through my MP who happens to be the Defence spokesman for the Liberal Democrates for several months and am still waiting for a reply.

Not a priority for any of the party's me thinks untill, like PTP says, we can get the country supporting todays armed forces.
The galling thing is that this is not a difficult problem to solve, in fairly short order, given the resources available to central Govt. The only obstacle seems to be that political figures have nailed their patently inadequate colours to the NHS/military ward mast, repeatedly defended it, and now cannot retreat without losing face. It seems to me that their distorted view of their own self image is more important than the suffering or recovery of the casualties.

If this is true, and I do honestly think that it is, then this is a very shocking position to arrive at. And I do believe that given enough of a moral malleting, they will fold and do what should have been done a long time ago. But they'll do it reluctantly and with the minimum of effort which they can get away with, and without a word of apology. And it will be presented as something other than a defeat of vacuous self-interest ofcourse.

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