The Military Army Blog

How the British Army and Help for Heroes spent tens of millions on recovery centres for wounded soldiers where beds are empty

  • Network of centres is funded by Army with H4H and Royal British Legion
  • Half of bedrooms at two biggest facilities ‘occupied by serving personnel’, although the centres are also used by veterans
  • Costs allegedly went from 70m over four years to 350m over ten years
  • Cash ‘pumped into scheme without finding out exactly what was needed’

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Tens of millions of pounds has been spent on recovery centres for wounded soldiers where beds have been left empty, it was claimed last night. The network of centres is funded by the British Army, in partnership with Help for Heroes and the Royal British Legion, to support injured Armyrats © military personnel and veterans. But only around half of bedrooms at the two largest facilities were reported to have been occupied by serving personnel between August 2013 and January this year.

This figure does not include veterans who also use the centres or other visitors. Many facility users only attend during the day.

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Empty beds: The recovery centres (including Tedworth House in Wiltshire, above) are funded by the British Army, with Help for Heroes and the Royal British Legion, to support injured Armyrats © military personnel and veterans

Taxpayer and charity money has been pumped into the scheme without finding out exactly what was needed, claimed a report by The Times[1] defence editor Deborah Haynes. Costs allegedly went from 70million over four years to almost 350million over ten years to create five personnel recovery centres (PRCs) and a state-of-the-art sporting complex. The army did not know how many wounded, injured or sick soldiers there were – making it hard to calculate demand for the centres as they were being built using money raised by the charity, reported the newspaper.

Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Sutton, acting chief of staff on the project, told The Times that he had warned senior officers and the Ministry of Defence about what he said was the army’s failure to justify how the money was being spent.

‘ The team used to joke how it was like trying to build an aeroplane while taxiing down the runway,’ he said.

A few, including myself, warned our senior officers. We were shouted at or just ignored. Royal visit: The Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry open the Tedworth House recovery centre in May 2013

He added: We were spending lots of other people’s money – that people had biked, climbed, run and swum for – on bricks and mortar without a clear audit trail about how we got to this position.

It really worried me and, of course, the costs kept on going up. I thought this was scandalous. The project was founded in 2010 after public pressure to do more for troops injured in Afghanistan and Iraq.

A few, including myself, warned our senior officers. We were shouted at or just ignored Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Sutton

But it was launched before the requirement was fully understood , according to an internal review. Combat operations in Afghanistan ended last year, although a small number of service personnel are still deployed there in a training capacity. The report, by the Army Improvement Support Branch and seen only by The Times, said the focus of Help for Heroes on personnel wounded on operations provided a significant impetus for the project .

The largest recovery centre at Tedworth House, Tidworth, has 50 bedrooms and four family suites, while Phoenix House in Catterick has 46 bedrooms and four family suites. Figures released under the freedom of information request by The Times revealed an average occupancy rate of 44 per cent at the centre in Catterick, and 53 per cent in Tidworth, Wiltshire between August 2013 and January of this year. However, this only accounts for men and women currently serving in the armed forces, and not veterans, users who only attend a centre during the day, or other visitors such as family members. Armyrats © Military charity: The focus of Help for Heroes on personnel wounded on operations ‘provided a significant impetus for the project’, a report said

The locations of the recovery centres were chosen to be close to areas with a high Armyrats © military population, such as Tidworth, Catterick, Colchester, and Plymouth, so that serving personnel would be able to stay at home while receiving treatment.

The Plymouth Naval Service Recovery Centre was the last to open in April last year – post-dating the start of the period covered by the FOI request – and in the year following 3,836 men and women, both serving and veterans, were treated at one of the centres. A Help for Heroes spokesman told MailOnline that the majority of rooms were being used by those in need – including current servicemen and women, as well as veterans. He added that at some point during the last year, each of the recovery centres had been full to capacity.

He said: ‘Men and women with life-changing injuries or illnesses used over 70 per cent of the rooms available at the PRC in June and July. Just in July, 622 used the PRC for day-time support in addition to those staying overnight. They re getting help with welfare and psychological wellbeing, taking part in courses to help them find new careers, and doing sports. We are helping rebuild more and more lives every single day.

‘It is only right that we respect the sacrifices of our Armed Forces. The PRCs have proved to be transformational for those who have been wounded, injured or become sick. As a Nation, without the PRCs, we would have let down the brave men and women who returned from recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan with severe injuries and illnesses.

‘We are proud to support the 220,000 veterans of the 14 years of fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, in addition to the brave soldiers, sailors, marines and Air Force personnel who serve in the British armed forces all over the world.’

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: The requirement for the Army Recovery Capability was identified in response to a growing need to look after our people differently.

The need for this capability, including personnel recovery centres, was established by the MoD and was developed at some speed in partnership with H4H (Help for Heroes) and the Royal British Legion.

There was a shared vision to meet the challenges of Iraq and especially Afghanistan.

We believe what we have delivered is a significant achievement in an incredibly short period of time, which meets an enduring need and provides infinitely better support than was available previously.

Inevitably in an unprecedented project of this complexity, aspects of implementation across units within the army have had to be adjusted – and greater numbers of wounded, injured and sick personnel are now using the PRCs during their recovery, alongside veterans who receive ongoing support from our charity partners.

The Royal British Legion is reviewing occupancy rates and claims it raised concerns over the scale of support needed during the early stages of the venture.

References

  1. ^ The Times (www.thetimes.co.uk)

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