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PTSD Claims Another Falklands War Victim



A Report for BBC World Service “Calling the Falklands” by Ben Koen (BK) 11/11/05


Over two decades on it appears the Falklands War has claimed another victim.  Michael Quinn died in June of a drug overdose after suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.  Mr. Quinn was a former gunner in the Royal Artillery and had witnessed the gunning of the Sir Galahad.  The Coroner, John Hughes had recorded an open verdict and he said that Michael had been exposed to the most terrible privations of war.  Before his death, however, the consensus of opinion was that Mr. Quinn’s condition had generally improved.  This was thanks to his treatment in Ty Gwyn, a nursing home for servicemen suffering from PTSD in North Wales.  Ironically Ty Gwyn has closed in the last two weeks.  That’s alongside a number of changes in the way the treatment and care is administered for ex-servicemen in the UK.  I spoke earlier to Dr. Morgan O’Connell (MO), who worked as a consultant psychiatrist in the Falklands Conflict, who has been a pioneer in the treatment of people with PTSD.  I started by asking about this term, PTSD and how it’s understood now-a-days. 


MO:  Unfortunately, the very nature of PTSD seems to be changing almost on an annual basis, which rather muddies the waters.  If you have a traumatic childbirth or a major coronary incident you are now said to have the possibility of summering from PTSD.  And we feel that’s rather muddied the waters, certainly as regards to people who have been caught up in major disasters including war.


BK:  Now Mr. Quinn did actually receive help from the Ty Gwyn, which is now closed, but there have been quite a few changes in how help for former servicemen is administered in the UK, isn’t there?


MO:  There is less help available to the ex- servicemen now than there was 20 years ago – shortly after the Falklands Conflict.  With the closure of the Defence Medical Services Hospitals, such as the Defence Naval Hospital at Hasler, the Royal Air Force Hospital and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.  It’s only laterally that the Government has begun to recognise that the NHS is not uniquely placed at all to manage the specific difficulties of the ex-service communities to deal with their mental health issues.  Hopefully, with that recognition they may well be able to examine again what should be done for its servicemen, particularly, given the work that is done by the charity.  And, I refer especially to the Ex-Servicemen’s Mental Welfare Society - Combat Stress.


BK:  In your opinion, with all this restructuring happening, are you unhappy with the amount of help available to ex servicemen in these sorts of situations?


MO:  I have never really been happy with the fact they shut down Military Hospitals – not just for Mental Psychiatric but right across the board.  Just trying to get access to an orthopaedic surgeon for an ex serviceman with problems associated as a consequence of having served means that you really have a three or four-year waiting time.  If you are struggling also at the same time with psychological problems, the two compound each other and the incidence of morbidity amongst ex-servicemen is correspondingly higher.


BK:  Now, you are a consultant psychologist to the Group, Combat Stress, which are in fact a charity.  How do you feel about the idea that stress suffered by former servicemen actually being dealt with in the charitable sphere rather than by National Health?


MO:  The illness experienced by Servicemen of a psychiatric nature as a consequence of having served their country should be treated properly.  And, with the best will in the world, our resources as a charity are very limited.  For example, we don’t have hospital status.  We have nursing home status, which means we are very limited in the people we can admit.  We can’t admit them in an acute situation and many of them present as being acutely ill and require access to the whole range of medical services, which unfortunately a charity would have great difficulty in providing.  We are all told, on a regular basis, how wonderful the NHS is.  Well, sadly, in the matter of psychiatric it is not the case at all, particularly when it comes to catering for the needs of ex servicemen who are psychiatrically ill.


BK:  How serious is the situation?  How serious is the short-fall in help at the moment?  And, what are the consequences?


MO:  It is very serious if only because of the difficulty of getting help for those people who are seriously ill and need urgent attention in the NHS as a whole, to get access to a consultant psychiatrist.  You have to be psychotic and a danger to yourself and to others.  If you are suffering from one of the neurotic illnesses, which would include Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and, a large part of depression and alcoholism, then your waiting time is probably in the order of months, certainly.  


BK:  Does this mean possibly that lives are at risk?


MO:  They are at risk because of the waiting time.


KB:  So what do you think needs to be done?


MO:  It’s very easy for me to pontificate.  I don’t have the limitations of the Government purse.  But certainly looking to the needs of ex servicemen – those people who suffered as a consequence of serving their country – there should be no question at all that they should have the highest priority in the land as regards accessing a scarce resource.

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