Written evidence submitted by the BMA to the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill
Armed Forces Bill – Armed forces covenant – clause 8
About the BMA Armed Forces Committee
This submission to the Armed Forces Bill Select Committee is made by the British Medical Association’s Armed Forces Committee (AFC) which represents the serving doctors and civilian doctors in the armed forces and the reserve armed forces. The committee considers matters relating to the medical branches of these forces to ensure that medical officers are not disadvantaged in relation to their civilian and military counterparts.
- The BMA is supportive of the inclusion of the Armed Forces Covenant in the Armed Forces Bill to strengthen protections against disadvantage for those who are, or have, served in the armed forces.
- The BMA believes that the ‘Due regard principles’ contained in the bill will offer increased protection to those in the armed forces, veterans and their families.
- We ask that the Committee expand the ‘specified persons and bodies’ section under clause 8 of the bill to include: regulators and ombudsmen in the housing, education and healthcare functions; Her Majesty’s Government and Secretaries of State with responsibility for the functions specified within the bill.
The BMA AFC welcomes the inclusion of the Armed Forces Covenant within the Armed Forces Bill, particularly the strengthening in statute for public bodies responsible for the delivery of key functions in housing, education and healthcare to have a duty to have due regard to the covenant principles.
We believe this legislation will allow for better protections from disadvantage and discrimination to those in the armed forces and veterans, including those in the Defence Medical Services (DMS). While we are supportive of the introduction of this bill, we believe that the bill as it currently stands is a missed opportunity to protect veterans, serving personnel and their families more fully from disadvantage both locally and at a national level.
While we are supportive of the ‘Due regard principles’ contained within the bill we believe that these can, and should, go further. We are asking the Committee to recommend that the ‘specified persons and bodies’ section, under clause 8, is expanded to include all regulators and ombudsmen. By doing so, when making judgements or investigating complaints, all regulators, such as the General Medical Council or Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, would be duty bound to also abide by the covenant principles. In this way those in the armed forces and veterans could ensure, should they put forward a complaint, or be the subject of a complaint, that the responsible body would be aligned with the sector bodies they cover in also needing to give due regard to the principles when considering a complaint.
The ombudsman, in investigating the actions of specified persons and bodies, should have regard to their compliance with the duties under this legislation. Including the ombudsman in the list of specified persons and bodies will support this approach. It will also ensure that members of the service community making complaints to the ombudsman have their interests protected, e.g. in allowances being made in their dealings with the ombudsman for periods of absence on operations or family movements between and within parts of the UK.
The GMC’s functions range from regulating the education and training of doctors to conducting fitness to practice hearings when doctors are accused of wrongdoing. The peculiar needs of the armed forces community, be it for treatment when injured on operations, for UK-regulated healthcare when living outside the UK or for ongoing care for veterans after they leave the Service, generate issues in the regulation and education of doctors in the DMS and beyond. As the arbiter of these issues, the GMC should not fall beyond the scope of this legislation. The same is true of other professional regulators.
While the bill offers protection through the covenant by extending due regard to local public bodies, it does not offer that same protection at a national level. As a result, areas in which forces personnel and veterans have problems with, such as the structure or prioritisation of different health services, but whose responsibility lies at a national level, will not be covered under the provisions currently contained within this bill. The BMA AFC fully supports the concerns raised by other stakeholders, including the Royal British Legion, that those required to give due regard under the principles of the covenant should be extended to include national Governments, including directly the relevant Secretaries of State for those functions named under clause 8. National Governments should also be required to adhere to the due regard principles when developing policy or guidance which effects the delivery of local services under the functions named within the bill.
Written evidence submitted to the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill