Wednesday, September 20, 2006

MOD admits failures in casualty reporting system

With casualties continuing to rise on all sides in both Iraq and, particularly, Afghanistan, we return again to the subject of casualty reporting. On this blog we have documented the failure of the British MOD to release accurate figures, even for its own troops. Our concerns have been mirrored by research published in the medical journal the Lancet. Only via various Freedom of Information (FOI) requests have we started to get to grips with what the true costs have been to the servicemen fighting in these two intractable conflicts.

The refusal by the MOD to account fully for British casualties has been partially excused by their claim that records were not kept centrally and therefore could not be accessed or collated. While this appears, even to the generous, to be somewhat unlikely, the MOD has now itself written to say that centralized records have been available since April 2005, well before they stated their claim to the contrary. In a letter dated 3rd July 2006 they say:

"You also asked about Notification of casualty reporting. The Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC) is the single point of contact for this reporting in the MOD and maintains a database of all NOTICAS reports raised from the date of its foundation, 11th April 2005, to the present. NOTICAS reporting for all three Services was standardised with the formation of the JCCC.

However, prior to the formation of the JCCC we have no single database for NOTICAS reporting. Paper records are kept by the single service commands and efforts are underway to transfer these into electronic format. Additionally, as explained on our website, during the early phases of Operation TELIC the tempo of operations meant that the paperwork associated with the NOTICAS process was not always completed properly. As a result we cannot be certain that all our NOTICAS records covering this period are complete, particularly for less serious injuries. We have only cited figures for personnel categorised as Very Seriously Injured, whatever the cause, and Seriously Injured, whatever the cause, on our website since NOTICAS reporting of minor injuries was less reliable. These figures are currently some 40 and some 75 respectively from the start of operations to the 31st April 2006."

While they state that the JCCC was established and central records electronically kept since 11th April 2005, it appears that this data has not been made publicly available and inadequate information substituted in its place.

With casualties mounting rapidly in Afghanistan on all sides I imagine that improved reporting and transparency is not going to considered to be advantageous at the current time. The statistics provided on the MOD www site for casualties from both Iraq and Afghanistan continue to be misleadingly presented. For example, there is mis-labeling of tables, and failure to include all categories of injury. Another anomaly is that the number of aeromedical evacuations from Afghanistan for Jan to July 2006 is given as 41. This is over two times higher than the figure given for all personal treated in UK and Coalition medical facilities in Afghanistan (19). Prior to medical evacuation patients would require assessment and stabilisation at medical facilities in country. The statistics provided just do not add up!

The open admission that the NOTICAS system failed to operate properly during the invasion phase of the Iraq war is an indictment of MOD administrative systems and a failure in their duty of care to the families of those who choose to serve in the UK military.