Two members of the British armed forces were killed in Afghanistan yesterday. One was a soldier from 1st Battalion Scots Guards and the other a Marine from 40 Commando Royal Marines.
The soldier, serving as part of Combined Forces Lashkar Gah, was killed by small arms fire while the Marine, serving as part of Combined Forces Sangin, was killed by an IED while on foot patrol. We have now lost 327 of our military in this unwinnable war.
The MSM seldom report casualties yet families of wounded Scots soldiers are treated worse than families of convicts. While prisoners can be sent to jails near home to make visiting easier, wounded Scots are treated in hospitals in England. That means families must travel hundreds of miles to visit loved ones.
There is one specialist military hospital in England plus five with specialist military wards and one in Northern Ireland. But there is none in Scotland despite two health boards being asked to consider making provision as long ago as 1999 - and despite Scotland providing up to 20% of the armed forces' manpower.
The Royal British Legion Scotland is demanding NHS Scotland, along with the MoD, work towards establishing a unit here. The charity has produced a paper making the case for a bid for an MoD Hospital Unit when contracts come up for renewal in 2011.
Meanwhile, Scottish-based families who want to comfort a wounded relative face journeys of several hours, and in some cases pay up to £200 a night for accommodation. As well as the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine in Birmingham, England has MDHUs at Portsmouth, Plymouth, Frimley Park in Surrey, Northallerton and Peterborough. There is also a military ward at Musgrave Park Hospital in Northern Ireland.
The MoD reimburses the travel and accommodation costs for immediate families of the wounded. Other relatives get no help whatsoever so RBLS has set up an initiative called TravelAid to help them. But it's the distance and inconvenience that are the biggest issue. For example, a family from Inverness would have to travel more than 350 miles to Northallerton and 450 to Birmingham, trips of over seven or eight hours.
The Scottish Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said the opening of MDHUs in Scotland was a decision for the MoD, however Westminster Defence Minister Andrew Robathan last week poured cold water on the idea. The MoD's reason is that IMDHUs are also teaching units and there would have to be sufficient volumes of Scottish-based casualties to maintain that. This argument carries the subliminal message that they wouldn't consider putting casualties from England or Wales in a Scottish unit when a unit in Scotland would be more convenient for families from the north of England.
It's long past time Scotland had a MoD Hospital Unit. A considerable part of any person's recovery from injury or illness depends on the level of support they receive from family and friends. Knowing your family is restricted from visiting because of distance will only add to the stress our wounded endure. Military medics often work in tandem with their civilian counterparts and therefore the excuse given by the MoD about volume is a fallacy.