Friday, March 24, 2006

MOD publishes information on British casualties online

The UK Ministry of Defence have today published some figures on British casualties in Iraq. The information they have chosen to make available can be found here.

On this blog we have followed the hesitant and partial release of information on casualties by the British government with more than a passing interest. Attempts to gain access to the facts via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) are described in previous posts.

Two weeks ago, the well known medical journal The Lancet, published an article describing the failure of the government to account fully for casualties.

So, with the publication of the figures today by the MOD the questions for me are:

Do the figures they provide reflect the full picture?
Has the MOD chosen to present the data in a clear and accessible way?
Have they been fully open and accountable?

Do the figures they provide reflect the real picture?

No, they do not. As admitted on the site:-

"These figures are derived from the best records currently held centrally. They are not fully comprehensive for a number of reasons"

They go on to say that, amongst other reasons, records from 3 medical facilities have been lost or destoyed and that:-

"Complete records on TELIC casualties exist, but only in the form of individual medical records, which are held by individual unit commands. These can only be viewed for non-clinical reasons with the express consent of the individual concerned, to protect patient confidentiality. Therefore the information exists, but is not held centrally."

Convinced? Me neither. Are we really supposed to belive that the British military is so disorganised as to not know how many casualties it has sustained in a war? If this were to be true it would be a shocking condemnation of the leadership of our armed forces and the organisation of its medical services.

In the list of reasons for full reporting they also fail to mention that they are not chosing to release the full information collected through the standard Notification of Casualty reporting (NOTICAS).

Has the MOD chosen to present the data in a clear and accessible way?

No, a definete fail on this account also. Let's be generous and look at the new reporting system they present for January 2006. Read the following extract from their site and then ask yourself if you know how many British casualties there were in Januray? and, How many were caused due to fighting or other causes?

For the period from 1 January to 31 January 2006:

Centrally available records show that:

5 UK personnel were treated at UK medical facilities in Iraq for wounds received as a result of hostile action.
1 person was categorised as Very Seriously Injured from all causes.
1 person was categorised as Seriously Injured from all causes.
56 UK military and civilian personnel were medically evacuated from Iraq from all causes.
57 UK service personnel were admitted to the Shaibah Field Hospital. Of these 5 were categorised as Wounded in Action and 57 were categorised with Disease or Non-Battle Injury.

How was it? Myself, I was lost in trying to work out what could be double counting, undercounting or just plain 'we really don't know whats going on' or 'we really just don't want to tell you'.

As for my last question I think there is little that needs saying...

Conclusion? Obfuscation continues to be the modus operandi. It appears that a decision has been taken to prevent the full disclosure of the facts and to continue to report casualties in a misleading and confusing way. Need we ask why.