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 Friday, 10 January, 2003, 10:36 GMT
Armed forces 'have too few doctors'
There are half the GPs needed to care for troops
Soldiers could be left with inadequate healthcare in any conflict with Iraq because there are too few GPs in the forces, doctors leaders warn.

The British Medical Association says the most recent figures, from July last year, show there are less than half the necessary number.

The armed forces have just 195 of the required 416 GPs. There are a further 96 GP volunteer reservists.

There are also shortages in other specialties within the Defence Medical Services, they warn.

You can't plug the gaps with civilian GPs

Dr John Ferguson, BMA
There are 23 of the 120 anaesthetists needed, 11 out of 28 orthopaedic surgeons and 18 out of 43 general surgeons required.

There are also shortages of A&E doctors and burns specialists.

Dr John Ferguson, chairman of the BMA's armed forces committee told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Over the last few years there have been too few doctors in the Defence Medical Services.

"And obviously at times of crisis, as we are potentially in now, they haven't got enough doctors to look after the troops if they are mobilised."

He added: "It's quite clear to me that if we are involving our troops abroad then they need our full medical support.

"There are possibilities of calling up volunteer reserves who are mainly in the Territorial Army to fill some of these gaps.

"But of course, they aren't sat around doing nothing. They are actually working for the NHS, either in hospitals or in general practice."


Dr Ian Bogle, chairman of BMA Council said: "In a state of war there are serious consequences not only for those involved but also for those at home.

"This is compounded by the shortage of doctors in the armed forces and the NHS."

A Ministry of Defence spokeswoman said although medical care was crucial in military operations, GPs would probably not be a particularly high priority.

She added: "Shortages in the Defence Medical Services are well documented and we are working hard to improve the terms of conditions and pay.

"If we did have a mobilisation and need to make up a shortfall, then we would liaise closely with the NHS in order to minimise any impact on the health service."

Shadow Defence Secretary Bernard Jenkin said: "The British armed forces will depend upon foreign medical care for any big military operation.

"The call-out of medical reservists will leave the National Health Service understaffed. This situation is unacceptable."

See also:

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