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Andrew Gilligan reports for BBC News
"Promises of improvements have been made each year for the last 3 years"
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John Spellar, Armed Forces Minister
"I accept it's not a satisfactory situation"
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Robert Key, Conservative shadow defence team
"The government has gone on cutting"
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Monday, 24 January, 2000, 09:18 GMT
Admiral slams navy health cuts

Admiral says naval medical cover is in a "parlous state".

Cuts in defence medical services have left 1,500 sailors unfit for duty, according to a senior Naval figure.

Admiral Sir John Brigstocke, a former Second Sea Lord, said in a letter leaked to the BBC that forces' medical cover had been allowed to slip into a "parlous" state.

Admiral Brigstocke: In charge of Navy personnel
He said: "There are soldiers and sailors whose careers are being held back and in some cases who are being invalided out of the Navy because they cannot get treatment."

His comments came as the Ministry of Defence admitted there was a "strain on resources" within the armed forces.

The ministry denies there is a funding crisis among the armed forces.

But the RAF is reported to be beset with problems, including "crippled" aircraft and a shortage of pilots, and it has been claimed that Royal Navy ships have been ordered to run slowly, or have been confined to port, to save money on fuel.

The parlous state into which our medical services have been allowed to slip through lack of resources and funding...has now been recognised
Admiral Brigstocke
Admiral Brigstocke said he had learned that the budget for the Surgeon General's Department - which treats service personnel - had been cut by 1.5m as an "in-year savings measure".

His letter added: "The parlous state into which our medical services have been allowed to slip through lack of resources and funding and a clearly defined future has now been recognised."

Low morale

Lengthening waiting lists had left severe logjams in service hospitals, said the Admiral, who is in charge of Navy personnel.

He said some 1,500 naval ratings, 5% of the total, were unfit for active service.

The Admiral blamed the problems on lack of resources, funding and a clearly-defined future for the Defence Medical Services.

He also said he knew of one officer who was asked to pay for his own operation.

Last year, a Commons report also warned the Defence Medical Services (DMS) had a 50% shortage of doctors and was suffering from low morale after years of cuts.

The Government has acknowledged the problem and has promised improvements in medical care in the services with new recruitment.

But Robert Key, a member of the Conservative shadow defence team, told BBC Radio Four's Today programme: "This government has gone on cutting nearly 1bn a year from the defence budget and this is really the problem - it is not turning round."

He acknowledged that the Conservatives had made major cuts to defence medical services spending, but said the Tories had been trying to turn the situation around before they lost office.

Chairman of the British Medical Association's (BMA) armed forces committee, Dr John Ferguson, said: "The BMA has repeatedly warned that Defence Medical Services are over stretched with fewer than half the number of trained doctors required in post.

"The disastrously low level of morale of doctors in the DMS continues and doctors are leaving. It is my view that the Defence Medical Services are unable to meet the need for medical support beyond a 'medium' scale of military effort."

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