Select Committee on Defence Written Evidence

Further memorandum from the Ministry of Defence


  1.  RFA Argus was originally launched in 1981 as Contender Bezant; a combination freight, roll on and roll off ferry (RORO) and container ship. She was one of the ships taken up from trade by the MoD for use in the 1982 Falklands War.

  2.  Following purchase by the MoD in 1985, she was converted to an aviation training ship at the shipyard of Harland & Wolff, Belfast, with the addition of extended accommodation, a flight deck, aircraft lifts, naval radar and communication suites. Another role of RFA Argus has been that of RORO vehicle transport, with vehicles carried in the hangar and on the flight deck. She performed this role in support of United Nations operations in the former Yugoslavia.

  3.  A Primary Casualty Receiving Facility (PCRF) was added before Argus was sent to participate in the 1991 Gulf War.


  4.  RFA Argus's primary role is now as a PCRF. PCRF is a purpose-built Role 3 medical treatment facility, which provides the Royal Navy with a floating hospital when needed.

  5.  The facility offers 100 patient beds; comprised of 10 Intensive Therapy beds, 20 High Dependency and 70 general beds. It also possesses a range of state of the art medical equipment and accommodates personnel with the relevant clinical expertise.

  6.  The PCRF can be manned to provide 3 levels of capability, involving the use of 25 beds, 50 beds and 100 beds. The mix of specialists that can be provided on board is tailored to the mission requirements but can include:

    Oro Maxillo-facial


    General Surgery

    Orthopaedic Surgery

    Ear, Nose & Throat


    Burns & Plastics

    Full laboratory capability

    CT Scanner



    Emergency Medicine

    General Practice


    Primary Dental Care


    Infection Control




  7.  All medical specialties are supported by trained and experienced nursing and medical staff.

  8.  The hospital facility was initially fitted for the first Gulf conflict in 1991 as a portacabin structure. A major rebuild of the facility took place in 2001 which has resulted in the present permanent facility. RFA Argus deployed to the Iraq war in 2003 and regularly takes part in exercises in company with other vessels designed to test her PCRF capability.

  9.  Exercise Medical Endeavour will take place between 23 September and 6 October 2007. The exercise will dovetail with a 3 Cdo Bde exercise and will allow interplay between the Role 1 and 2 medical facilities on shore within 3 Cdo Bde and the Role 3 (hospital) facility on RFA Argus.

  10.  During operations and exercises, clinical staff drawn predominantly from the Ministry of Defence Hospital Units (MDHUs) in Portsmouth and Plymouth join the vessel to allow her to deliver the levels of medical expertise required.[29]

  11.  When the PCRF is not required for operations and exercises, RFA Argus still routinely operates as a Helicopter Platform Landing Training vessel. On these occasions, the PCRF is maintained by a small permanent cadre of 3 personnel. Additionally, a number of posts are pre-identified in Ministry of Defence Hospital Units (MDHUs) to provide Command and Control of the Facility. For example, Commanding Officer MDHU Derriford is also Commanding Officer PCRF.

11 July 2007

29   Staff are mainly Royal Navy personnel, although there are a small number of posts filled by the other Services. Back

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