The number of wounded troops being treated in military rehabilitation centres is set to have doubled by the end of this year with Afghanistan enduring its bloodiest period, new figures have shown.
The news comes amid warnings that the pressure for spaces on the military’s hospitals is going to intensify as the number of wounded continues to increase.
There were 254 “battle injuries” treated in Britain in the whole of last year but up to the end of this July the number has already reached 299, according to the Defence Analytical Services and Advice. With 15 soldiers killed this month and dozens more injured the total wounded for this year is expected to approach 500 “battle injuries”.
All the wounded are initially treated at Selly Oak hospital in Birmingham and then at the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre at Headley Court, that specialises in amputees and other serious injuries. The numbers for both hospitals last month were 173 patients admitted compared to 88 last July.
However, staff at Headley Court in particular are under pressure with a doubled work load of 117 wounded treated treated last month compared to 52 in July 2008.
“I have spent 40 years in the military and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it as busy as it is now,” said Ernie Stables, of the British Limbless Ex-Servicemen’s Association. “The numbers have shot up over the past few years.”
He added that so far the hospitals were “coping” but believed “it will get busier”.
Major General Patrick Cordingley, former commander of the Desert Rats in the first Gulf War, said it was inevitable that pressure would have increased with the growing casualty toll.
“I suspect both Selly Oak and Headley Court are extremely stretched. When you go into operations like this, you must be prepared not only to have the right equipment but also the right medical facilities to look after those who will inevitably be wounded.
“The situation at Selly Oak was dire when we started in Helmand in 2006 but is getting better. The Government just has to make certain that these injured men and women coming back are given priority treatment. It’s the least we can do for them.”
The increase in wounded will put further pressure on the Ministry of Defence’s compensation scheme which already has 279 personnel appealing against their payouts, as reported in The Daily Telegraph’s Justice for the Wounded campaign.
During the bloody push against the Taliban in central Helmand during Operation Panther’s Claw more soldiers were injured last month than in the whole of 2006, with 94 wounded in action, the highest monthly figure since the conflict began in 2001.
Almost 1,000 British service personnel have now been killed or wounded in Afghanistan.
Many of the British troops killed in recent weeks died around the town of Sangin, where British forces had been “thinned out” so that men and equipment could be sent on Operation Panther’s Claw.
In all, 206 British personnel have been killed in Afghanistan since 2001, including 37 since the start of July.
Brig Chris Parker, the Commandant of the Royal Centre of Defence Medicine, said: “The increased number of casualties experienced in recent months have been successfully managed by military and civilian staff working together at Selly Oak Hospital.
“Headley Court can accommodate the patients who are going through Selly Oak and has already allocated admission dates for the casualties who will need that level of rehabilitation.”
An MoD spokesman added that Headley Court had increased its beds by 15 in recent weeks.