Defence Medical Services: The new role for Whittington Barracks

What site near Lichfield has just had a £144 million makeover and now employs 1,400 people and is the national exemplar of its work? Those of you who regularly pass Whittington Barracks may well have wondered what all the building activity and road works were about. Our curiosity was rewarded at our March meeting, when a packed St Mary's listened to an excellent presentation by Commander Simon Brown R.N.

Whittington Barracks is now the national headquarters and centre of excellence for all our military medical services. Overseen by the Surgeon General, one thousand military staff, plus four hundred civilians are based there, out of a total military medical staff establishment of seven thousand, supporting all our armed forces, whether at home or abroad. Each year, over 850 students are put through 127 different medical-based courses, whether it be battlefield resuscitation, dental treatment, rehabilitation, counselling etc. The list is endless.

Having decided to bring all medical training together on one site for all three services, the choice of location fell on Whittington. Cmdr Brown, as a senior naval officer with extensive experience in project management, took a lead role, working with the main contractors, Carillion. For the last three years, he has overseen the transformation of the site, including the refurbishment of existing buildings together with new building work. Using an aerial photograph, Cmdr Brown took us around the site, where over 500 rooms of student accommodation have been created, together with a further 200 rooms for officers. This large number of students are served by classrooms, lecture theatres and a variety of training facilities, including a mock-up of a hospital ward. In support, are the staff messes, pub, café, shop, the existing church and a multi-faith room, IT facilities and indoor and outdoor sports facilities and fitness rooms. In fact, in all but name this is a small scale campus university.

Cmdr Brown showed us a short video about the Camp Bastion hospital, which included interviews with personnel about the medical service and its value in a combat situation. Statistically, we were told, the chances of surviving a loss of a limb in combat in Afghanistan where higher than if suffering a road accident in Great Britain, such is the level of training and expertise of the Defence Medical Services. Further changes are afoot, with Headley Court, currently a rehabilitation centre for those severely wounded in combat, being closed and its functions as a specialist unit transferring to the newly acquired Stanford Hall, near Loughborough.

Although about eight hundred persons live on site, rising to over 900 by 2016, many staff live in surrounding towns and villages and we were told that the Ministry of Defence has acquired some nearby properties for rental. The existing Staffordshire Regimental Museum remains on site and its future may possibly be linked to the transfer of the Army Medical Museum. Discussions continue. DMS are anxious to establish good relationships with their neighbouring communities and have supported a number of community based initiatives, particularly with schools. Despite the predictable security concerns, it is hoped that some form of Open Day can be arranged each year to enable the community to see what happens on site. Its official opening took place on 8th May 2014 in the presence of The Duchess of Cornwall. Such a large employer in our District is good for our local economy and its recent relocation here means that it will be a major presence for many years to come.

Roger Hockney
March 2015