Department of Health Skip to content

Please note that this website has a UK government access keys system.

You are here:

Launch of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR)'s Centre for Surgical Reconstruction and Microbiology
Thursday 20 January

  • Last modified date:
    4 March 2011

It’s a pleasure to be here in Birmingham at the new Queen Elizabeth II hospital. 

I remember being shown the plans and model of this wonderful new building several years ago.  What a pleasure now to see it; and to have the opportunity also to visit the military wards.  I’m very impressed to see what you’ve achieved here.

Every single day, those in our military risk their lives in foreign lands to keep us safe at home.  For those who are injured, their war does not end.  Instead the front line shifts from the battlefields of Helmand to the wards of this hospital . 

Injuries suffered on the front line are complex and can require many years of care and rehabilitation.  In the last decade, thousands of serving personnel have been treated here for serious injuries and other medical conditions.  So it makes sense that we place this new centre here at the Queen Elizabeth II Hospital, where we can learn the most and deliver the most for military patients. 

The horror of major trauma is not restricted to the battlefield.  It is a major issue for civilians too.  Every year around 20,000 people in England and Wales experience major trauma.  Of those, more than a quarter will die and more than half will face life with a serious or permanent disability. 

Now, the nature of the injuries experienced in battle will differ from those suffered on the streets at home.  Military patients who come into contact with IEDs and fire-arms tend to experience trauma at the more severe end of the spectrum.  The NHS can learn a huge amount in terms of trauma care for blast injuries and ballistics. 

Surgeons and nurses returning from the front line will have deep specialist knowledge.  Knowledge that is of value to our major trauma centres. 

But civilians also have to deal with complicating factors that the military does not.  Things like hypertension or diabetes.

So military and civilian trauma care is not the same.  Each has much it can learn from the other. 

I remember at Papworth a couple of years ago, I was at a celebration of Europe’s first successful heart and lung transplant. 

This great achievement is an excellent example of what can happen where disciplines from basic research, immunology and, ultimately, the surgery come together. 

With this, as with all new developments, courage and the ability to adapt and to innovate is required by the institution, by doctors and by the patients themselves. 

But what’s as important, is that the new developments and spin-offs that come out of the understanding of complex patients are disseminated throughout the NHS and the military.  So that the benefits of new techniques and procedures can be felt by all.

This unit has the potential to push forward medical and surgical practice in the same way as they did at Papworth.  Pushing the boundaries of what is possible, keeping alive people who would previously have died, making what today is cutting edge, commonplace.

Already, benefits of this sort of cross-fertilisation have helped soldiers to survive injuries that once would have proved fatal.  And many of the management strategies developed in combat have improved civilian care when it comes to gunshot wounds, natural disasters or terrorist attacks.

But to date, much of this work is opportunistic and uncontrolled.  This centre will bring focus and rigour as we attempt to translate our experiences in Afghanistan into real benefits to the civilian population at home.

The Government has confirmed its support for health research in the strongest way possible in the recent Spending Review.  It is a part of our determination to secure long-term improvement in treatments and outcomes through innovation.  Annual real terms increases will ensure that NHS patients will benefit from the most innovative medical research and technologies. 

This £20 million centre, a joint venture between the Departments of Health and Defence, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and the University of Birmingham, will make a real difference to the lives of many people, military and civilian.

It will, for the first time, bring together trauma surgeons, research scientists and many others from the military and the NHS. 

It will help us to expand our knowledge and practice in haemorrhage control, to develop new resuscitation strategies and to test and develop new devices. 

It will help us to push forward in the vital area of infection control.  To stop people dying from an infection before they have a chance to recover from their injuries.

It will help us to focus our research on the early phase of injury and translate it into novel therapies and interventions for pre-hospital and early in-hospital trauma care.  Those precious early moments that can make such a difference to the survival and recovery of a patient.

Those in our Armed Forces who have made sacrifices to defend our country deserve the very best – as do their fellow citizens back home.  This Government is committed to giving them both first class treatment and support.  This Centre will be an important part of that support.

So let me finish by congratulating you, University Hospitals Birmingham, the University of Birmingham and all those involved in this Centre.  The substantial funding devoted to this initiative is a reflection of your dedication and expertise, your past achievements and a promise of the future successes that lie ahead.

Thank you, I wish you all the very best as you take this exciting work forward.

Access keys