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Last Updated: Sunday, 11 March 2007, 17:06 GMT
Best treatment pledge for troops
Des Browne
Mr Browne says he will investigate claims of neglect
Defence Secretary Des Browne has responded to claims of neglect towards British troops wounded in conflict by promising the best possible treatment.

He told BBC News it was "unacceptable" that some cases may have fallen short of his "very high standards".

He said an inquiry was under way into the case of teenage soldier Jamie Cooper, whose family says he was treated "appallingly".

A mental health charity said the way veterans were treated was "scandalous".

Mortar bomb

Letters from soldiers' families obtained by The Observer newspaper claim that wounded soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have been denied proper pain relief or have been unable to get help with mental health problems.

Mr Cooper's brother, Stephen, 25, said the family had made a formal complaint about the treatment Jamie, 18, had received at Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham.

Stephen said from the family home in Kingswood, Bristol: "The families of all the soldiers just want to make sure that they are guaranteed better treatment.

"Of course none of us are happy about the way Jamie has been treated.

"It's the last thing you would expect to someone who has been serving for his country."

Jamie was serving with the Royal jackets in Basra, Iraq, last November when a mortar bomb exploded behind him, wounding him in the stomach and backside.

Psychiatric problems

University Hospital Birmingham NHS Trust, which includes Selly Oak Hospital, is investigating the family's complaint.

Officials will discuss the matter with Private Cooper and his family, according to the Ministry of Defence website.

Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham has several wards managed by the military and is the headquarters of the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine.

Mr Browne told the BBC: "Where there are individual cases that fall short of the very high standards that I and others demand, then we need to address these and I will address them. They are unacceptable."

He added: "We are putting a significant effort into ensuring that those who are treated, in particular at Selly Oak hospital, which I am a champion of, are treated as best as they can be there."

I think it's pretty scandalous that they (veterans) have to wait so long
Robert Marsh, Combat Stress charity

The MoD's own figures reveal that more than 2,100 troops - about 2% - returning from Iraq between 2003 and September 2006 have suffered psychiatric problems.

Services mental health charity Combat Stress, which runs three treatment centres for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, warned it was in danger of being overwhelmed.

Serving military personnel, including reservists, can normally get treatment through the defence medical services.

But after they leave the forces they must use the NHS, where, Combat Stress says, it normally takes 18 months to get a first appointment.

Robert Marsh, a spokesman for the charity, said: "For the general population I think that's pretty unacceptable - let alone if, for example, you are a reservist and you have put your career on hold to serve your country.

"I think it's pretty scandalous that they have to wait so long."

Combat Stress currently has about 160 Iraq veterans on its books and says the number is increasing all the time.

Separate treatment

Shadow defence secretary Liam Fox said some NHS treatment fell "well below" the levels the armed forces had the right to expect.

He said the government had failed to deliver its promise of separate treatment within hospitals for servicemen and women.

The MoD said it took the issue of mental health problems "extremely seriously" and gave Combat Stress around 2.8m a year.

A Department of Health spokeswoman added: "The MoD provides a range of services and the NHS also provides support and intervention, through both GPs and specialist services."


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Des Browne responds to neglect claims



SEE ALSO
More medical aid for reservists
16 May 06 |  Health
Troops 'need support for stress'
10 Aug 06 |  Northern Ireland

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