Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the United States was the theme of Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox’s speech at the Heritage Foundation in Washington DC earlier today.
The speech focused on operations in Afghanistan and Dr Fox told the audience that the operations of NATO and other coalition allies in Afghanistan are a direct consequence of 9/11.
Dr Fox said that in Afghanistan Britain stands shoulder-to-shoulder with America and shoulder-to-shoulder too with the 44 other nations who have troops on the ground there as well as the Afghan Government and ordinary Afghan people.
See Related Links to read the speech in full.
The close co-operation between the UK and the US was in further evidence during the Secretary of State’s visit to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center where he spoke with injured Service personnel who have recently returned to the US from Afghanistan and Iraq.
Talking to the patients and staff, Dr Fox said:
We must learn from each other’s best practice so that we can develop a gold standard for the treatment of our Armed Forces and veterans. This is why, on my first visit as Defence Secretary to Washington DC, I have visited the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Our brave Armed Forces are paying a high price defending national security which is why both the UK and the US Governments are committed to providing the best quality of care and rehabilitation to our injured Service personnel.
This medical establishment is a shining example of that commitment and sets the standards for the UK to match in terms of quality clinical services.
The new Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham already brings together on one site key clinical services used by Service personnel at Selly Oak Hospital such as orthopaedics, neurosurgery, neurology, burns, plastic surgery and critical care. For those military patients who often need the care and expertise of several different clinical teams to treat their injuries this will be a particularly welcome benefit.
During his tour of the medical centre, Dr Fox sat down and spoke with injured Service personnel who have recently returned to the US from Afghanistan and Iraq. He expressed his admiration for their courage and fortitude:
It is always humbling to speak to such brave people who have given so much for their country. The work they do is vital for national security. The UK Government has pledged to provide the very best in through-life care for those UK troops injured in service to their country. Our commitment to them is a commitment for life.
Before he left the medical facility Dr Fox praised the staff and those who run the centre and stressed the need for continued close working relationships:
Like the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, the Walter Reed Army Medical Center brings together the highest standards of clinical excellence with military support, not just for the casualties but also for their families.
Dr Fox also met with the US Secretary of Veterans Affairs, General Eric Shinseki, to talk about the mental healthcare of veterans. After their discussions, Dr Fox said:
There is already a significant level of collaboration between our two countries for treating wounded Service personnel and this meeting provided an opportunity to discuss what more could be done.
The US and UK have a range of ongoing research from surgical training on military fractures in San Antonio to military mental health projects looking at Reserve Forces’ families and children of military parents. Such collaboration is vital to ensuring we provide the highest ongoing care for our people.
I welcome this opportunity to learn more about what works well in the United States. Veterans’ mental healthcare is a high priority for me personally and the UK Government is currently working with the charity Combat Stress, the Department of Health and the NHS [National Health Service] to identify measures which will support veterans’ access to treatment.
The effectiveness of screening for mental health problems also formed part of the discussion. Dr Fox said:
We are exploring the benefits of screening and Dr Andrew Murrison MP, a former Royal Navy Surgeon Commander, is conducting a study on behalf of the Prime Minister on the relationship between the Armed Forces (including veterans) and the NHS, focusing particularly on mental health. There are also plans for a trial, which will provide a major part of the evidence base for assessing whether screening would be appropriate in the UK.