Thomas Harding, Daily Telegraph (UK), October 2, 2006
A paratrooper wounded in Afghanistan was threatened by a Muslim visitor to the British hospital where he is recovering.
Seriously wounded soldiers have complained that they are worried about their safety after being left on wards that are open to the public at Selly Oak Hospital, Birmingham.
On one occasion a member of the Parachute Regiment, still dressed in his combat uniform after being evacuated from Afghanistan, was accosted by a Muslim over the British involvement in the country.
“You have been killing my Muslim brothers in Afghanistan,” the man said during a tirade.
Because the soldier was badly injured and could not defend himself, he was very worried for his safety, sources told The Daily Telegraph.
A relative of the Para said the man had twice walked on to the ward where two other soldiers and four civilians were being treated without once being challenged by staff.
“It’s not the best way to treat our returning men,” he said. “They are nervous that these guys might attack them and, despite being paratroopers, they cannot defend themselves because of their injuries.”
The Ministry of Defence, which said that it had no record of threatening incidents, indicated that there was a military security presence at the hospital and it co-operated closely with local police.
A MoD spokesman said there was “appropriate security” at Selly Oak for the 11 servicemen currently being treated.
But Liam Fox, the shadow defence secretary, called the treatment of wounded troops “an absolute disgrace”.
“They should be in completely separate wings even if this means shutting down entire NHS wards. It is a betrayal of our troops having them treated in mixed and open wards. Those who have been injured on operations must be with those who understand their predicament in a secure environment.
“The Defence Secretary should be having urgent talks with the Health Secretary to do this otherwise this Government’s commitment to our Armed Forces is nothing but talk.”
There is also resentment among serving troops unhappy about being treated in a NHS hospital that they believe is unsuitable for military patients.
Soldiers on operations say they would rather receive a more serious injury and go to the top American military hospital in Ramstein, Germany, than end up in a NHS hospital.
They now half jokingly refer to getting “a Boche rather than a Blighty” in reference to the wounds that would send them home. Ramstein has an outstanding unit for brain surgery, and neurological intensive care beds in Britain are in short supply. “The blokes see it that if you are unlucky you get wounded and go to the UK at the mercy of the NHS, but if you get a head wound you get sent to Ramstein in Germany where the US has an outstanding medical facility,” said an officer serving in Afghanistan.
“It also does not do morale much good knowing that within 18 hours of being wounded you could wake up in a NHS hospital with a mental health patient on one side and an incontinent geriatric on the other.”
The latest figures show that 86 troops have been injured in Afghanistan during the past six months of fighting. More than 600 soldiers have been flown back to Britain after being injured on operations abroad since 2003 with most treated at Selly Oak, which is also the headquarters of the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine.
In the past decade the seven military hospitals in Britain, Germany and Cyprus have been closed. The remaining military hospital at Haslar, Portsmouth, is expected to be sold to developers next year.
(Posted on October 5, 2006)
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