Saturday, July 31, 2010

Number of British troops who have lost limbs in Afghan war rises fivefold in 2010

From The Guardian in the UK:

The number of British troops who lost limbs in Afghanistan rose dramatically in the first half of 2010, to 38 – almost five times the figure for the same period last year – according to official statistics.

Separate figures, compiled by a charity for limbless service personnel, reveal that the number of its members with multiple amputations has overtaken the number with single amputations for the first time in the organisation's history.

Figures from the Defence Analytical Services and Advice centre (Dasa), part of the Ministry of Defence, appear to reflect the surge in improvised explosive device (IED) attacks on British personnel in recent months.

The statistics follow last month's UN report, which showed a 94% increase in incidents involving IEDS in the first four months of 2010 compared to 2009. A Guardian documentary on US troops in Helmand province in Afghanistan reports military commanders treating the area "like a low-level minefield".

No official statistics are yet available for multiple amputees this year, although Dasa reports that in 2009 55 personnel suffered the "traumatic or surgical amputation" of more than one limb, with 26 described as "significant multiple amputees". That compares with 30 amputees in 2008, and 12 the year before.

The British Limbless Ex-Servicemen's Association (Blesma) says 28 members are having amputations in 2010; 11 of them are single amputees, while 17 are multiple amputees, 12 double and 5 triple.

The Blesma general secretary, Jerome Church, said: "We've seen a curve dramatically upwards. Multiple amputees now make up a higher proportion of our amputee population of casualties in this conflict than ever before. By our calculations, over the last 10 months or so, the number of double amputees has more than doubled. We've had 11 or so triple amputees, half of them in the last 10 months.

"My concern is with how we as a country are standing up to the challenge of the future of looking after these people."

Church, a former lieutenant colonel, said he believed the figures reflected the surge in violence, but also the medical care behind the rise in survival rates of severely injured personnel.

Colonel Pete Mahoney, the deployed medical director in Camp Bastion from May to July 2009, said severely injured personnel were surviving in greater numbers due to the level of medical care.

"We are now seeing a much more severely injured group of survivors than previously," he said. "We are receiving into Bastion people with very severe limb and other injuries. It's a marker of how very seriously injured people are being cared for on the ground by our young medics and surviving."Mahoney points to changes made to the "chain of care" - from the one in four combat troops whose medical training is geared to stemming catastrophic blood loss, to the medical emergency response teams tasked with recovering casualties in helicopters, to the build-up of experience gained by surgeons in the nine-year war - as being responsible for saving more lives.

Mahoney said: "When a patient arrives at Camp Bastion, they have a consultant-led trauma team and a consultant-staffed surgical team waiting for them. The experience of conflict is that more and more people are going out that have been in Afghanistan before. The level of medical care has contributed to saving lives.

"People with very severe injuries in previous conflicts who might not have survived now have a much better chance of survival."

The number of "seriously or very seriously" wounded rose from 65 in 2008 to 158 last year. In the first six months of this year, it was 93.