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Hospital Facilities

7. Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab): What progress has been made in providing military managed hospital wards. [97415]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne): By the end of this year, there will be a military managed ward at Selly Oak hospital. It will provide an enhanced military care environment for patients returning from an operational theatre, if it is clinically appropriate for them to be brought together in one ward. There has also been an increase in military nurse numbers at Selly Oak hospital in Birmingham, which is the primary reception hospital for operation casualties.

Siobhain McDonagh: What thought has gone into the provision of the best possible trauma care for our servicemen and women?

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Des Browne: Decades of thought have gone into providing the best possible trauma care for our injured servicemen and women. Indeed, the previous Government started the process when they sought to close our military hospitals. As the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) said when he visited Selly Oak on 25 October 2006:

that those military hospitals have.

Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring) (Con) indicated assent.

Des Browne: I see that the hon. Gentleman assents. He has been trying to explain that across the country for some time, and I welcome his support. The way to improve care for trauma victims is to ensure that they are treated in theatre, in the best possible hospitals. We do that by providing them with world-class hospitals there and by ensuring that they are treated in world-class hospitals when they return. We have chosen to centre our care for those people in Selly Oak hospital in the west midlands because it is a world-renowned centre of trauma care.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): The House is aware that a decreasing number of hon. Members have had any meaningful experience of the armed services. I regret that, and I certainly commend the armed forces parliamentary scheme. Does the Secretary of State accept that those of us who have had some experience and have benefited from British military hospitals, which have been centres of excellence, are deeply concerned—nay, angry—at the way in which we have provided medical services for those wounded while fighting for this country, and for peace and freedom in various parts of the world? I must tell my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) that I regret the closure of British military hospitals, because we need to treat our soldiers in special places, where they can be with their colleagues, as that is helpful to their recovery.

Des Browne: The hon. Gentleman’s last point was his most important point, and that is indeed why we are moving towards a military managed ward. If necessary—if the numbers justify it—we will move beyond that to military managed wards, to provide an appropriate environment for those who are recovering. However, I will do some research to ascertain whether, when the process of closing the hospitals was embarked on, he was just as vociferous from the Back Benches. [Hon. Members: “He was.”] I am sure that he was, but I suspect that his was, if not a lone voice, a very lonely voice. I say to him, with respect, that on many occasions he may be a lonely voice but a right voice, but on this occasion he is a lonely voice but a wrong voice. In terms of clinical governance and proper support for our troops, those military hospitals would not have provided the level of care that we want for those who are prepared to make the sacrifices that our troops are prepared to make.

Sarah McCarthy-Fry (Portsmouth, North) (Lab/Co-op): I thank my right hon. Friend for his commitment to the provision of a military managed ward within the excellent care of the NHS. Our hard-working NHS
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doctors and nurses do not just operate here in the UK, but risk their lives in theatre as reservists and members of the Territorial Army. Does he agree that to denigrate NHS care for military personnel, as several Opposition Members have done, is an insult—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Lady must not make a speech.

Des Browne: My hon. Friend makes a good point about the level of care that is being received by our forces in theatre. Last week, when I was in Helmand province, at Camp Bastion, I visited the military hospital in theatre. It is excellent and is excellently staffed by people of the highest calibre. Opposition Members have to square the circle with the people of this country when their leader suggests that his policy can be summed up in the word, “NHS”—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I hope that we can at least manage to get to Question 10. We will have to step the pace up. I want to hear how the Grenadier Guards are getting on.


8. Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): What assessment he has made of the prevalence of mental illness among servicemen returning from combat duty in Iraq; and if he will make a statement. [97416]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Derek Twigg): The Ministry of Defence sponsored research by King’s college to gain further understanding of the extent of mental health problems by those who have served on Operation Telic. We welcome the study’s confirmation in May 2006 that the overwhelming majority of our servicemen and women are returning from operations in Iraq in good health and that there has been no significant difference between the mental health of regulars who deployed to Iraq and those who did not.

In response to the study’s findings that higher percentages of reservists who served on Telic 1 displayed symptoms of common mental health problems and post-traumatic stress disorder than reservists who did not deploy, we announced our intention to create an enhanced post-operational mental health care programme for recently demobilised reservists. That will be launched before the end of the year.

Dr. Cable: I pay tribute to those who have sacrificed their lives and their health in this conflict, includingthe 2,000 ex-servicemen—60 a month—who have succumbed to mental health problems following the conflict in Iraq. What is the Department’s long-term commitment to that group of causalities, bearing it in mind that the conditions are often long-term and manifest themselves some time after the event?

Derek Twigg: As the hon. Gentleman will know, there is excellent care for those on operations and those coming back from operations. Excellent care is provided by Combat Stress and the Priory Group, as well. As I have just mentioned, for post-operational purposes, for reservists, we are looking at providing additional mental health care. We are also looking at the possibility of
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pilots, working with the NHS and some charities, for other veterans who may need further support. For instance, that may mean some sort of involvement from military mental health care professionals.

Sandra Osborne (Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock) (Lab): May I commend to the Minister the work of Hollybush house in my constituency, which provides specialist mental health services, residentially and in the community, as part of the Combat Stress network? Its already limited resources are being stretched by increased referrals from veterans recently back from Iraq and it also has concerns about support for reservists who have been recently deployed. Can I expect the Minister to announce, as part of his strategy, increased funding for Combat Stress by the end of year?

Derek Twigg: I know that my hon. Friend takes a great interest in this matter. She mentioned Hollybush house and Combat Stress in her constituency. We work closely with them. As I said, in terms of the overall strategy, it is important to consider support when on operations and when coming back from operations. It is also important to look again at how we can improve post-operational support. We are looking at a particular scheme to give that support to reservists. We will continue to look at ways in which we can improve and get more assistance to those who need it.

Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): The Minister referred to a statement made by his predecessor in May, which said that a Minister was going to come to the Dispatch Box a few months later to clarify the details of the announcement. Five months later, the Minister has simply repeated chunks of May’s statement, so it appears that the Department has made little or no progress. When will our reservists, some of whom have significant mental heath issues, as was acknowledged in May’s statement, finally get to hear about the treatment package to which they will be entitled? When will the Department pull its finger out and make that announcement?

Derek Twigg: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman was listening to my earlier answers. I make it clear again that it is important that we get this right and that we provide the best possible service. We intend to make an announcement on the issue before the end of the year.

Hospital Facilities

9. Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Con): What plans he has for hospital treatment of injured service personnel; and if he will make a statement. [97417]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne): While on operational deployment, service personnel receive excellent medical care in field hospitals and other deployed medical facilities. In Afghanistan, we are upgrading the hospital facility and we already have an upgraded facility in Iraq. In addition, the £690 million Birmingham new hospital project will see our military casualties being treated in the largest and most modern critical care unit in Europe, as well as offering our medical personnel excellent training and research facilities.

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Mr. Pelling: With Defence Medical Services standing at only 50 per cent. of its target staffing level, what can the Secretary of State do to reassure us that he is trying to increase the number of staff?

Des Browne: The hon. Gentleman identifies a challenge that we face. In response, we have to offer those who wish to practise medicine in the armed forces the best possible environment in which to do so, with the promise that they will be able to train and build their skills in a way that will allow them to advance in the profession. The investment that I outlined in the hospital that is presently called Selly Oak will provide that environment.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): While I will not accept any criticism of the quality of medical treatment that our servicemen and women receive from the NHS when they return injured, may I suggest to the Secretary of State that sometimes when our soldiers are treated in mixed wards, some of their special needs, such as where to store their kit bags and how they access visitors, are not quite understood? Further talks might be beneficial so that the two services understand each other better.

Des Browne: I have been to Selly Oak hospital, which has been the focus of all this attention, twice in the past six weeks. I spoke at length to patients on both occasions, and the group of patients whom I met only a couple of weeks ago were unstinting in their praise of the care that they received in the hospital. I will bow to no one in defending that hospital, which is providing the highest level of care. Of course, we can always improve our ability to generate the environment in which to recover that will be the best for those for whom we care. We will continually examine the situation, including the points that my hon. Friend raises.

Grenadier Guards

10. Mr. Ben Wallace (Lancaster and Wyre) (Con): What the tour interval over the last three years will have been for the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards when deployed to Afghanistan in 2007. [97418]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence last updated the House on units deploying to Afghanistan on 10 October 2006. Army units are generally given advance notice of a possible deployment to allow them to plan ahead. The next major routine roulement of regular UK forces is due to take place next spring. The 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards has been given prior warning that it may form part of that deployment. An announcement regarding the next roulement will be made in due course, once the details have been finalised. If the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards was to deploy to Afghanistan in spring, its average tour interval for the three-year period between April 2004 and April 2007 would be 10.75 months.

Mr. Wallace: Of course, that is way out of the harmony guidelines. The 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards will have been deployed on operational tour for
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19 out of 36 months by spring next year. Does the Minister not recognise the massive effect that that has on family life, promotion and retention? Such a pathetic tour interval will lead only to fewer soldiers, not more. In light of those statistics, will the Minister review the dreadful decision taken by the Ministry of Defence in July 2004 to cut four infantry battalions? Will he recognise that to give soldiers what they need, perhaps more soldiers are required?

Mr. Ingram: The hon. Gentleman raised two points. Yes, we fully recognise the impact that such short tour intervals have on all serving personnel and their families, and we do all we can to work against that. Looking across the average, we are not that far out in terms of our overall commitment, but there are certain units that come under great pressure.

The hon. Gentleman talks a lot of nonsense about the restructuring of the Army under the future infantry structure. Let me tell him why. Under the arms plot which we have had for too long and which successive Governments refused to tackle, anything up to seven battalions were not available because of re-roleing or relocating. The restructuring that we are undertaking and the reinvestment of 3,000 posts through the future Army structure will allow the British Army and the British armed forces to live up to the high accolade that we give them—that they are the best in the world. That will take time to deliver, but at least we are now on track. Previous Governments failed to achieve that.

Hospital Facilities

11. Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the standard of NHS care received by service personnel. [97419]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Derek Twigg): Military patients are getting the very best treatment available. The Birmingham NHS hospitals that are the primary reception hospitals for operational casualties are among the best in the country. They offer specialist centres for trauma, burns, plastic surgery and neuroscience, treating civilian and military patients alike. That is why many of our armed forces doctors, surgeons and nurses work there—to help develop the skills needed for front-line missions.

Shona McIsaac: Is it not the case that the treatment received by all our armed forces—soldiers, Navy, Air Force or anybody else associated with our armed forces—is second to none? I pay tribute to Headley Court for the rehabilitation work that it does. Will my hon. Friend confirm that war pensioners are entitled to priority treatment on the NHS for injuries that they have received, which demonstrates the Government’s commitment to treating our personnel with the respect that they deserve?

Derek Twigg: I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the excellent, close working relationship between the military and NHS medical staff. When I visited Selly Oak, I saw the excellent relationship that has developed there, allowing the best possible treatment to be provided. Injured soldiers to whom I spoke there were clear in their congratulations and appreciation for the care and treatment that they had been given. My hon. Friend is right that war pensioners who suffered injuries are entitled to priority treatment on the NHS. Periodically we remind the NHS of that, and I shall continue to do that in future.

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Climate Change

3.33 pm

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (David Miliband): With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the independent report on the economics of climate change by Sir Nicholas Stern, commissioned by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister last July. This morning Sir Nicholas published his comprehensive and compelling report. I believe it is a landmark in the debate about climate change.

The Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Foreign Secretary have repeatedly stressed that climate change is an economic, energy, security and political issue, not just an environmental issue. The Stern report shows why this is true. The conclusions of the report are clear. First, climate change is the greatest long-term threat faced by humanity. It could cause more human and financial suffering than the two world wars and the great depression put together. All countries will be affected, but the poorest countries will be hit hardest. Secondly, the costs of inaction far outweigh the costs of action. At a minimum, a failure to tackle climate change—the continuation of what Sir Nicholas Stern calls business as usual—will cost 5 per cent. of global GDP. Costs could, however, run up to 20 per cent.of GDP.

Thirdly, the window of opportunity to reverse the rise in global emissions is narrowing. The science and the economics suggest that to avoid catastrophic climate change, or at least its likelihood, global carbon emissions must peak in the next 10 to 15 years.

Fourthly, the Stern report shows how the stock of CO2 or its equivalent has risen in the 150 years since the industrial revolution to 430 parts per million, and it continues to rise at around 2 parts per million a year. Stabilisation at between 450 and 550 parts per million would mean at least a 25 per cent. cut in global emissions, and for richer countries with higher emissions, it would mean a cut of 60 per cent. or more.

Finally, Sir Nicholas makes it clear that climate change is not an insoluble challenge. The technologies to reduce energy demand, increase energy efficiency and develop low-carbon electricity, heat and transport are within grasp. The costs are manageable at around1 per cent. of global GDP. The earlier we act across all countries and all sectors, the more we keep costs down.

Stern argues for global co-operation and domestic action, so let me set out our response in both areas. First, on emissions trading, Stern argues that we must create a price signal for carbon, in particular through the development of emissions trading schemes around the world. Emissions trading can not only ensure cost-effective reductions in emissions, but drive tens of billions of dollars each year to put developing countries on a path to low-carbon economies. The European Union is a world leader in that area, and a European solution is key to our goals. Today, we are proposing that the EU commits to new targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent. by 2020 and at least 60 per cent. by 2050.

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