Last Friday I visited the Royal British Legion’s Battle Back Centre in Lilleshall, in Shropshire, to see the inspirational work they are doing to help Armed Forces personnel recover from injury, mental health issues and sickness.
The Battle Back Centre is one of five regional Personnel Recovery Centres in the UK, providing residential courses for up to 24 people a week. The Royal British Legion provided £27m towards the Centre, helping 4,500 people since it opened in 2011, as part of their commitment to support service personnel in need of rehabilitation for injury or illness. Activities are based around sport and teamwork, to promote self-confidence and improve motivation to aid recovery.
It is the regrettable truth that many who served in Afghanistan and Iraq came home with life-changing injuries. During the campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, almost 21,000 personnel were medically discharged from the Armed Forces, including some who lost limbs. So we must ensure we do everything we can to help injured personnel recover and give them the support they need.
Prosthetics play a huge part in helping those who have lost limbs regain a sense of independence and normality. The field of prosthetics has made impressive advances in recent years, due to greater research focus on limb loss in the military - caused by the increased use of Improvised Explosive Devices in operational theatres of Iraq and Afghanistan.
But this technology also shows how learning is being transferred from military to civilian life. By coincidence on Friday I also met young Macey Hand, a magnificent 7 year old girl from Claverley, who lost her right foot before her first birthday. She kindly showed me her tailor-made carbon fibre running blade, fitted by Principal Prosthetist Andy Sharpe from West Midlands Rehabilitation Centre in Selly Oak, Birmingham, who was on hand to explain it to her schoolmates. Selly Oak will this year provide prosthetic blades for 90 children, which will make a remarkable difference to their lives. For Macey, her blade has been a massive boost in allowing her to lead life to the full, doing more sports and joining in games with her friends.
Seeing the positive difference that impressive motivational coaching combined with technological advances in prosthetics have made, both at Lilleshall and to Macey, made for a very uplifting day. As a current Health Minister, and former Defence Minister, this was a heartening and inspirational way to see how these two very different branches of Government can work together to share technology and information, and improve people’s lives.