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Defence in the media

Surgeon General responds to The Times

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Lieutenant General Martin Bricknell, Surgeon General of the British Armed Forces:

Lieutenant General Martin Bricknell, Surgeon General of the British Armed Forces
Lieutenant General Martin Bricknell, Surgeon General of the British Armed Forces

I have seen the article in the Times that was published today concerning medical IT systems that support the Armed Forces. I welcome regular engagement with the British Medical Association (BMA), and I am committed to our continued work together to improve and enhance the healthcare we provide to our servicemen and women.

Where concerns about our medical IT system have been raised by the BMA, we have taken every step to investigate and rectify them, and I have personally updated the BMA at each of our meetings. I look forward to the upcoming round-table meeting between the BMA and my medical IT experts to discuss the concerns reported by their members.

Our medical IT system provides a unified clinical record that can be accessed by all clinical providers in support of Armed Forces personnel, wherever they are employed across the globe. In many cases, this can include operational deployment, and at sea. This clinical record covers medical, dental, mental health and rehabilitation. We have electronic links to the NHS, and are working hard to ensure that we keep up with developments in electronic health records across the devolved administrations.

As with all medical information systems, it is important to ensure that problems are reported. If there are problems, we are committed to addressing these in the most efficient way possible. We support our clinical staff with a dedicated medical IT helpdesk. Last year we conducted a specific survey to determine the extent to which our users were experiencing problems with the medical IT system. No systemic problems were reported, though there have been intermittent local issues that were resolved through the support of this dedicated helpdesk.

From our Significant Event Reporting System, IT issues have been raised in just 0.001% of medical consultations over the past two years. None of these incidents have been associated with harm, though I recognise the importance of resolving these issues to remove the any potential risks.

However, the use of any medical IT system that poses even the smallest hazard to our people deserves our full attention. We have been conducting a programme of system upgrades over the past few years to improve the network across our global system. We are also in the process of procuring a new medical information service. This will be a positive step, and will lead to an even better working environment for our clinical staff and ultimately contribute to the highest standards of clinical care.

Our highly qualified medical professionals work tirelessly to keep our forces fighting fit, and all drug prescriptions, specialist referrals or deployment of troops are undertaken only following all appropriate clinical checks. The safety of our serving personnel is paramount. If, for whatever reason, our clinical staff are unable to access patients’ records, we instruct them not to undertake any non-emergency appointments, to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our personnel. I specifically wrote to our clinical personnel earlier this year to emphasise my support to them in the use of our medical information system.

Every soldier, sailor, airman and woman in our armed forces does outstanding work. My colleagues in the Defence Medical Service and I are dedicated to ensuring that the healthcare our people receive, whatever their role and wherever they are, is of the highest calibre. They deserve no less.

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