Daily Mirror | 14.04.2003 15:15
Hospital chaos... but UK docs are sent home
April 14, 2003
By Stephen Martin in Baghdad and Lorraine Fisher
BURNED: Girl at Saddam City hospital
PAIN: Boy victim caught up in US bomb blast
SUFFERING: British army doctor treats horrifically injured Iraqi child in Basra last week
BRITAIN is pulling a medical ship and field clinic out of Iraq even though there are only two hospitals left open in Baghdad.
Last night there was anger at the decision as thousands of sick and injured Iraqis faced death in hospitals without electricity, water and few drugs.
The Red Cross said 33 of the 35 hospitals in Baghdad were "no longer functioning".
But the Ministry of Defence announced on Friday that it was sending home dozens of British doctors and nurses with 33 Field Hospital and medical ship RFA Argus.
It said there was "no requirement for medical aid to be imported at the moment".
Lib Dem Paul Keetch said all three field hospitals in Iraq should stay.
"Given the fact that hospitals in Basra and Baghdad have been looted, withdrawing any medical facilities from the Gulf at this time is premature," he said.
"The Government gave a commitment to look after the Iraqi people long-term, what better tangible demonstration of that than to allow this field hospital to be used by Iraqis?"
In Baghdad's Medical City - once a complex of four hospitals - and one of the facilities still open, all 2,400 beds are full.
Another 300 patients were queuing to get in yesterday. There are just two nurses and a handful of doctors working.
There is no running water to clean wounds or sterilise instruments and no electricity to run equipment or light the wards. Many rooms are filthy and splattered with blood.
Most medical centres have no drugs, beds or even simple instruments including stethoscopes because they have been pillaged during days of looting. Experts fear many will die from simple infections.
Doctors and nurses have been attacked as they try to protect their patients and many have fled. One medic has been shot dead, another wounded.
For days US Marines looked on and did nothing to stop the looting.
They blamed a lack of manpower but they had soldiers guarding Baghdad's oil headquarters.
Jean-Michel Piedagne, director of Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF UK), said the British and US governments had a duty to provide medical care for Iraqis.
He said: "It is the responsibility of the occupying forces under the Geneva Convention to make sure the basic needs of the population are catered for.
"So it is the responsibility of the British and Americans to make sure the people have access to health care." He added: "Since the attack on Baghdad the hospitals have not been able to cope, they are severely overstretched and staff are working under horrendous conditions.
"Medical staff are also too scared to come to work in the hospitals because they don't want to leave their homes for fear of them being looted."
Martha Clarke, of CAFOD (Catholic Agency for Overseas Development), said: "We have been asking the Army for some time to create an area in which emergency aid can get through. Things have been getting worse and worse. We are waiting to go in and have four trucks full of medicines, food and other aid waiting at the Jordan border."
The MoD yesterday argued that Royal Fleet Auxiliary Argus and 33 Field Hospital were not needed. It said the two field hospitals that remain would be enough.
RFA Argus has two operating theatres on board and beds for 96 patients. And 33 Field Hospital has 30 surgeons, doctors, nurses and other medics to serve its 300 beds.
A spokesman added: "34 and 202 field hospitals are coping well with the current casualty rate and dealing with civilian casualties as and when required.
"There is no requirement for medical aid to be imported at the moment.
"All medical centres and Al Zubayr hospital have recently been supplied with requested aid."
Veterans of the last Gulf War condemned the medical pull out.
Retired Sgt Charles Plumridge, 62, who spent 23 years in the Royal Army Medical Corps, said: "It's a deplorable decision. I feel so angry about this. The MoD should show a little bit of humanity and leave the field hospitals out there to help the Iraqis.
"Keeping them out would show the world we are not brutal killers but gentle, qualified professionals who help the injured and sick."
Mr Plumridge, who was with 32 Field Hospital, said: "They have the finest equipment and excellent medical staff who could help save hundreds of people out there."
Private Tony Flint, who served with in 205 General Hospital in Riyadh during the last Gulf War, said: "It's just an exercise to save the army money.
"When we were out in the Gulf, we estimated it cost about a million pounds a week to keep out hospital out there.
"It sounds like a lot but compared to the other costs of war, it's nothing."
Mr Flint, from Tottenham, North London, said medical supplies are sometimes dumped before staff return home.
"Last time a team of 10 of us spent a day slashing open packets of plasma and pouring it down the sink because they didn't want us to bring it back," he said.
Veteran Simon Weston, who was horrifically burned in the Falklands War, also believes the Government should keep medical staff in place.
He said: "It seems daft to me to take it out of theatre at a time when there are hundreds of Iraqi civilians so badly injured and in need of urgent medical help.
"If we are prepared to spend money on the war in the first place we should be prepared to spend it on medical aid.
"These decisions are made by accountants."
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