Monday, May 01, 2006

UK Casualties in Iraq: The debate continues in The Lancet

Two letters are published this week in the medical journal The Lancet on the subject of the under reporting or mis-reporting of British casualties in Iraq by the Ministry of Defence.

The letters were written following the publication of an article by Prof. Sheila Bird, which described how the government has consistently refused to provide clear or complete information on British casualties.

The first of the letters published this week is from the Defence Medical Services and discusses the way that information on injuries is used to improve treatment and counter measures. The letter, however, fails to address in any way the failure of the government to provide honest information on casualties to the British people.

The second letter supports the article by Prof Bird and confirms that the data does indeed exist that would allow the MOD to provide the requested information.

"The reason given at the time for not compiling or making available the data for analysis was that the cost would exceed the £600 fee specified under section 12 of the Freedom of Information Act. Clearly, extracting and summarising such data would require a lot of work, but in light of the arguments outlined by Bird, the cost-effectiveness of the Ministry of Defence's decision surely has to be questioned.

The same communication indicated that, since February, 2003, there had been 2762 medical evacuations from Iraq and that 790 of these had involved UK military personnel. The reasons for medical evacuation included “injuries sustained as a result of hostile actions, accidents and other incidents”. Further information published online by the Ministry of Defence reveals that about 1200 additional medical evacuations had occurred during 2005."

The letter then concludes:

"Until there is a change in policy and practice within the Ministry of Defence, we can only deal in informed guesswork in the assessment of the public-health effect of the war on people serving in the British military. As argued by Bird, we owe them more than this."