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SHIP SHAPE AND MILITARY FASHION

15-07-2008

Last week it was announced that Birmingham's new QE hospital would have a dedicated military ward for injured troops - following complaints about their treatment at Selly Oak Hospital. Yet Birmingham doctor David Nicholl finds the system is working much better than reports might suggest.

Normally, I get a little tetchy when my phone goes off in clinic; I like to be undistracted when I’m with patients.

Sometimes, however, one gets a call which makes you stand to attention, metaphorically, if not literally. “Its switchboard, we have a call from the military”.

Within a minute, I’d asked my patient if they minded popping out of the room for a minute, and had the clearest phone-line to the front-line. For obvious reasons, I can’t say who or where I was speaking to. Yet given how much critical bile has been extolled in the tabloid press regarding the medical care for soldiers, I was staggered how well the whole process worked given that the soldier had been seriously injured less than 90 minutes previously.

The military doctor in a frontline base needed some urgent advice - should he shift the casualty to a base 5 hours away or should the casualty be flown back to Birmingham which would take 24 hours? Within minutes, he had e-mailed the CT scans to me (some private MRI services could learn a thing or to from the military), and it was decided he should be evacuated back to the UK.

I was then able to liase with the relevant specialty, he needed to be under a different specialist than myself, all of this happened uneventfully and was smoothed over by the highly effective military liaison team at Selly Oak.

Sometimes the process does not work so effectively, the next day I saw a sailor in out-patients and there was no referral letter from his medical officer.

Yet, even this was worked out, an e-mail to his ship thousands of miles away solved the problem. None of this will make the pages of the Daily Mail, but then it has been my experience that the NHS liaising with the military has in general worked very well.

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