In June 2009, the previous government announced that a feasibility study into the establishment of a Defence and National Rehabilitation Centre (DNRC) would be undertaken.
The study was conducted, Dr Fox said in a statement to Parliament today, because the physical constraints of the existing defence rehabilitation facility at Headley Court meant that realising the full benefits of advances in technology and science to rehabilitation medicine will not be possible in the medium to long term.
The feasibility study into the concept of a DNRC looked at the possibility of establishing a new facility in the Midlands and how the whole issue of rehabilitation should be developed in 21st century terms.
Dr Fox said that the study, which involved the MOD, the Department of Health, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, took evidence from a wide variety of sources including many of the practitioners at Headley Court. He said:
It concluded that there is convincing evidence that a DNRC would build on the remarkable achievements of Headley Court by offering substantial ‘betterment’ in virtually all areas, providing an assured level of future care that will surpass that which is offered by Headley Court’s current and planned capabilities.
The MOD’s Surgeon General considers that the degree of ‘betterment’ is shown to be compelling and very significant in terms of scale, quality, design, patient flows and future-proofing. It presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to develop the nation’s rehabilitation capability in partnership with the MOD, which builds on Defence’s acknowledged lead in this area.
This Defence ‘core’ of a DNRC has been defined in considerable detail and will include specific provision for neurological and complex trauma patients as well as ‘back to life’ facilities.
The study also revealed widespread support for the notion of civilian rehabilitation benefiting from close association with the Defence equivalent. Although less developed at this stage, the study concluded that significant national benefits could come into play.
Dr Fox added:
The urgent need for improvement in the nation’s approach to getting injured people back to work is well-known - the cost to the taxpayer of lost working days was estimated in 2006 to be over £60bn.
A combination of Defence and civilian medicine, university-led research and development, and national disabled sporting facilities in one location could provide a combination unique in the world.
Professor Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer of the Department of Health and the NHS in England, and the Surgeon General in the MOD strongly support the development of a DNRC, and the trustees of the Headley Court Trust also support the project.
During the study a test site in the Midlands was identified as able to accommodate both the Defence military establishment and allow space for national facilities to be developed over time. This test site allowed the development of robust costs on the basis of designs to fit the MOD’s clinical brief.
With his permission, the Defence Secretary informed the House that the benefactor behind this project is the Duke of Westminster, and that he had also generously funded the feasibility study.
Dr Fox said the Duke’s generosity has now extended to the acquisition of the test site so that, as a first step, a dialogue with the planning authority can take place to explore the site’s DNRC potential. He will also fund the necessary work to process the planning application.
Ministers expect to be able to make the decision on whether a DNRC should be built at the end of 2013. Should a decision be made to proceed with the project, the outcome would mean a new Defence establishment, opening in 2017, which would ensure that the spirit of Headley Court forms on a new site and continues to do what it has always done so well.
Investment shall continue in Headley Court regardless of whether the establishment of a DNRC is taken forward or not, to ensure that it remains well-placed to carry out its vital task of ensuring that the wounded receive the best possible care, and a project to increase capacity and sustain infrastructure is planned to start at the end of this year.