Memorandum from Brigadier W.E.I.Forsythe
I hope that this letter may be in time for your enquiry, which I only read about in the British Medical Journal the other day. It may also be that I am so long retired from the Army that my views are now of no value. However for what they are worth here they are.
I left the Army 17 years ago. My last appointment was as the Commanding Officer of the Queen Elizabeth Military Hospital in Woolwich, the largest military hospital in the Armed Forces. At djfferent times before that I'd commanded the military hospitals of Dharan, in Nepal and the ones in Munster and in Rinteln in Germany. I was the most experienced hospital commander in the Armed Force& When I left the Army Medical Services, I went into the NHS' as a District Director of Public Health until the Health Authority was abolished 3 years later. Since then I have worked part time as a Medical Advisor to the DWP, and in the course of that often have to assess disability of ex service people for the Veterans Agency. I've stated all this for I feel each form of employment is relevant to my opinions.
The Abolition of Military Hospitals
Happily for me this only happened after I'd left the Army. However it seemed to
me to have been the result of the following factors
I The" Peace Dividend" expected as a result of the end of the Cold War
2 The need to economise in spending an the Armed Forces
3 The fact that the Gulf War forces had been over provided for with medical support, in that the casualties estimated by the war planners didn't materialise.
4 1 believe that the Surgeon General at the time was not able to present the case for retention of Military Hospitals adequately to the Adjutant General. The SG of the time had never commanded a military hospital, and so couldn't know much about how they functioned. He had worked in one many years before, but that was in Hong Kong, which bore little relevance, to those in the UK which were always activity engaged in field training
The Present Military-Medical Hospital Arrangements
I don't wish to comment on these, for they have been set up since I left the Army and it is for serving officers to make the case for them to you
The British Military Hospital(BHM) as an entity
The Military way of life is that of the "ex tended family". The "Regimental Spirit" pervades everything ,and a soldier who went to the Queen Elizabeth Military Hospital
as a casualty or as a patient knew that he would be treated with the dignity he deserved by specialist of the very highest caliber. His unit would send a representative to see him and unit commanders would keep in personal contact with me to see how his soldier was getting on. We had a suite to accommodate visitors overnight or longer and welfare officers to look after them.
Our specialists were of the highest quality: Three of the consultants were CBE, and one OBE, (and he was concurrently the President of the Society of Rehabilitation). Several were Professors at the Royal Army Medical College at Millbank. All our support services were of excellent standard; I recall on one occasion a visit by the NHS to study our method of operating theatre useage, to find we achieved such a high throughput
The specialists also had access through the Honorary Consultants to the Army( a most prestigious appointment for a doctor of merit) to the best advice and tertiary care from the teaching hospitals in London
When a soldier was ready for discharge from hospital I would personally ensure that all the necessary return arrangements had been made
The Type of Patient at the QEMH
The facilities were there for soldiers, which were about 60% of the total. the rest were retired military people from all over the country referred by their GPs. This was an enormous benefit to veterans for they never needed to be felt" lost to the system'. I well remember Simon Weston who had been wounded in the Falklands coming for his Out Patients and others too
I think this facility for veterans one of the most important things we did. I cannot
imagine that the post Falklands War suicide rate that is so dreadful would have been the case if the QEMH would have still existed. The veterans I see in my present work hate being treated in civilian hospitals and all look back nostalgically to the good old days
One of our particular facilities was being a Branch of the Far East Prisoners of War Association. FEPOWS came for their check ups and often for psychiatric help to a really welcoming environment.
A further fill up was with local NHS patients referred by local GPs. They liked the ambience: the daily visit by the Matron or a deputy, the daily visit by the duty chef, and the inspections by the head of cleaning service. They knew of the qualityof the Consultants. They knew that I as the Commanding Officer did a weekly inspection of every thing too!
The Role of Military Hospitals
1 To provide medical care in the right environment for soldiers
2 To provide medical, military and mobilization training for the staff
How the army ever thought they could do without them baffles me! All of the other European Armies appear to find them necessary. Why are we different?
If you, Sir, can restore the proper medical support for soldiers you will get a very big cheer!
19 June 2007