Posted on: Monday, 12 March 2007, 21:00 CDT
BETRAYAL OF THE WOUNDED ; Scandalous Neglect of Injured Troops Returning to NHS wardsHumiliation of a Teenage heroJamie, 18 Nearly Died in an Iraqi Attack. But Worse Was to Come in a British Hospital


INJURED troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are suffering scandalous neglect on NHS wards.

They are going without pain relief for up to 14 hours and are enduring appalling conditions in hospital.

Thousands more have serious mental problems but find themselves placed on lengthy waiting lists.

Ministers were accused yesterday of breaking the historic 'military covenant' which guarantees fair treatment for soldiers in return for their willingness to lay down their lives for their country.

The persistent healthcare failings can be added to the long- running complaints over poor pay, housing and malfunctioning kit which have left many soldiers bitter and disillusioned.

Liberal Democrat leader Menzies Campbell said: 'The covenant has been broken. It is contradictory to hail the professionalism and commitment of our armed forces while failing to look after them properly.' Liam Fox, Tory defence spokesman, said: 'Our armed forces have been let down and taken for granted.' The poor treatment of soldiers in civilian hospitals has increased calls for a dedicated military facility. Next month the last of the forces' post-war military hospitals will close, leaving troops without a single specialist hospital. At one stage there were 20 such establishments but they have fallen victim to a remorseless cost-cutting programme.

One of the most shocking of the allegations came from the family of Royal Green Jackets rifleman Jamie Cooper who nearly died when shrapnel sliced through his stomach after a double mortar attack in Basra.

The 18-year-old, from Kingswood, Bristol, was admitted to Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham, last year, where staff allowed his colostomy bag to overflow. Days later, he was transferred to neighbouring Selly Oak where his nightmare continued.

His medical air mattress was allowed to deflate, causing him considerable pain. He has twice contracted MRSA and also developed pressure sores, one so deep that a skin graft was required.

Yesterday his parents Philip and Caroline revealed that, in all, Jamie's colostomy bag had been allowed to overflow three times once leaving him lying in his own faeces.

Two members of hospital staff allegedly refused to empty it one claiming not to know how to do it. Mr and Mrs Cooper did it themselves and remained at their son's bedside yesterday. They hope that he will be moved to the specialist Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre, Headley Court in Surrey, within the next month.

In a scathing letter to hospital managers, Mr and Mrs Cooper describe a 'catalogue of errors', adding: 'All servicemen and women should receive first- class care if injured whilst carrying out their duty at the behest of the country's leaders. All that we want, as any parent would, is for our son to be given the treatment he deserves.' Around 800 injured soldiers have passed through Selly Oak. Other letters from furious families claim that patients are waiting hours for vital painkillers to be administered and have even received the wrong tablets.

Among the complaints are that a geriatric patient tried to climb into an injured soldier's bed by mistake. Another former Selly Oak patient, Alex Weldon, of 45 Commando Royal Marines, said that his pain relief arrived two and a half hours late and even then was incomplete.

Injured soldiers returning from the front line are being treated in NHS hospitals many, but not all, on wards with civilians. One man from the Parachute Regiment was confronted by a Muslim man at Selly Oak and told: 'You have been killing my Muslim brothers in Afghanistan.' The incident led to Tony Blair promising five months ago to look at creating militaryonly wards for all soldiers.

Colonel Tim Collins, who led his troops into battle in 2003 in Iraq by delivering a famously rousing speech, last night said there should be resignations over the health care scandal. 'I would start with a clearout of the incompetent generals at the top of the armed forces who are more worried about polishing their CBEs than they are about the welfare of their men and women.' In a separate development, it emerged yesterday that 2,123 servicemen have been treated for mental problems-since returning from the front line but many thousands more are waiting up to 18 months for formal diagnosis. Of those, 320 have been treated for posttraumatic stress disorder while others have suffered anxiety or depression.

Veterans' charities say the rate of admissions is far greater than for previous conflicts, such as the Falklands, and estimate that as many as one in four soldiers could be affected in some way.

Defence Secretary Des Browne said that troops injured in conflict should receive the best possible treatment. 'Where there are individual cases that fall short of the very high standards that I and others demand, then we need to address these and I will address them they are unacceptable,' he said.

But the medical director of Selly Oak Hospital yesterday criticised military top brass for stirring up criticism. David Ross, an intensive care consultant, said: 'There are some senior people in the MoD, perhaps three or four senior generals in the Army, who very strongly want a military hospital.

'One of the complaints we have had is that we tell these squaddies to stop swearing. That is because it's not acceptable to use foul and abusive language in a public place.

'It seems to me some of these generals believe that side of the camaraderie among soldiers is more important than our core business, which is to make sure patients don't lose their life or limbs.' Mr Ross, medical director of University Hospital Birmingham Trust, which includes Selly Oak, added: 'Some of these generals want to be in control of how we do things in this hospital but the fact is, they do not understand what it is they are trying to control.' Comment Page 14

THE military covenant was drafted in the 19th century at the time of Wellington and was last reviewed in 2005. It says: 'Soldiers will be called upon to make personal sacrifices including the ultimate sacrifices in the service of the Nation.

'In return British soldiers must always be able to expect fair treatment, to be valued and respected as individuals, and that they and their families will be sustained and rewarded by commensurate terms and conditions of service.'

In healthcare, accommodation, pay and equipment, however, the bargain is not being kept.

The military hospital closure programme has seen nearly all dedicated units shut their doors. Ageing barracks are blighted by leaking roofs, broken windows, faulty wiring, leaky toilets and damp. While top brass enjoy free use of luxury flats in Central London, their junior staff live in dilapidated housing blocks which are pushing many to quit the forces.

As for pay, some junior privates are being paid below the minimum wage.

Hourly rates of pay can work out at less than Pounds 2 an hour for those sent on six-month tours of duty without a day off.

Soldiers have been left exposed by a series of appalling blunders over kit.

In the run-up to the Gulf War, they were issued with desert boots whose soles melted in the sun. Other errors included desert combat clothing and bullet-proof body armour not reaching some troops before fighting began.