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Thursday, 24 January, 2002, 01:05 GMT
Armed forces 'face medical shortage'
Royal Marine Commandos in Afghanistan
Royal Marine Commandos in Afghanistan
The armed forces are facing a serious shortage of doctors and dentists, medical leaders say.

The British Medical Association says despite the fact that last year saw major operations in Macedonia, Afghanistan and an exercise in Oman, there has been no increase in medical or dental manpower.

The BMA warns the future of the Defence Medical Services, is in doubt unless action is taken to improve the recruitment and retention of staff.

In its evidence to the Armed Forces Pay Review Body, the BMA calls for financial incentives to boost numbers and therefore reduce the strain on doctors and dentists in the service.

The Defence Medical Services is suffering a serious shortage of both regular and reserve personnel

Dr John Ferguson
The BMA wants pay brought in line with civilian doctors earnings, and a 10,000 retention payment based on the NHS 'golden hello' scheme for family doctors in under-doctored areas.

Medical personnel in the Defence Medical Services are members of the army, navy and air force, though the majority are in the army.

Although their main priority is to look after the health of armed forces personnel, Dr John Ferguson, chairman of the BMA's Armed Forces Committee, told BBC News Online that medics also had to look after the health of refugees and other civilians in the area, particularly on peacekeeping missions.

These extra demands, and the fact personnel can be away from home for as much as eight months of the year has led many to quit the defence medical services to work in the NHS, he said.

Spelling out the shortages

Dr Ferguson said: "With less than half the doctors needed, the Defence Medical Services is suffering a serious shortage of both regular and reserve personnel."

Figures quoted by the BMA from recent parliamentary questions show the Defence Medical Services have 16 general surgeons but have a requirement of 44 and 10 orthopaedic surgeons of a required 28.

In 2001, there were 26 consultant anaesthetists compared with an operational requirement of 120, and since November 2000, the number of GPs in the Defence Medical Services has fallen by 15 to 160 since November 2000. The requirement is 398.

The shortages mean increasing pressure is being put on the reserve medical forces, made up of volunteers, the majority of whom work in the NHS.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence told BBC News Online the government was aware there were problems.

But he said measures had been introduced, including a recruitment drive and the establishment of a centre for defence medicine in Birmingham.

He added: "We are aware that [the service] is understaffed, but that reflects the picture in the NHS."

The pay review body is set to report in a few months time.

See also:

12 Mar 01 | UK
Changing face of the army
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