Diabetes

Defence written question – answered on 6th July 2009.

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Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Shadow Minister, Work & Pensions

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence

(1) if he will review the prohibition on insulin-treated diabetics joining the armed forces;

(2) how many people have been (a) diagnosed with diabetes while serving in the armed forces and (b) discharged from the armed forces as a result of being diagnosed with diabetes in each year since 2004;

(3) how many people had an application to join the armed forces turned down because they had diabetes in each year since 2004;

(4) how many people at each rank in the Army have insulin-treated diabetes.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Veterans)

It is our policy that armed forces personnel should be recruited to be fully fit for deployment worldwide on operations. For this reason, the services do not recruit or commission personnel with existing medical conditions which require regular access to medication, such as diabetes. We currently have no plans to review this policy.

This policy is intended to protect sufferers of diabetes from military circumstances which may adversely impact upon their condition and to ensure the effectiveness of the armed forces. For example, a diabetic individual deployed on operations may experience difficulties in monitoring blood or urinary glucose levels; accessing medication; taking regular meals; maintaining a regular sleep pattern; accessing shared-care diabetic clinics; and accessing specialist services such as ophthalmology or chiropody. Such circumstances would adversely impact upon their diabetic control, thus increasing their risk of micro—and macro-vascular complications. Furthermore, an uncontrolled diabetic may constitute a risk not only to themselves, but also to others in a military or operational context.

Potential recruits are given details during the recruitment process of those medical conditions that make an individual unsuitable for entry into the services, of which diabetes is one. No centralised record is kept of the specific reasons why individuals are turned down on recruitment.

The single services manage individuals who develop diabetes during their service careers according to their specific operational requirements and each case will be considered on an individual basis. The total number and rank of individuals who were diagnosed with diabetes while serving in the armed forces and are currently still serving is not held centrally, and could be obtained only by examining the medical records of all personnel, which would incur disproportionate cost. While we will make every effort to retain in-service individuals who subsequently develop diabetes (provided that there are worthwhile military roles for them to fulfil), this will normally mean that they will have to be re-graded and will not be able to deploy on operations. This also applies to other disabilities which might arise while an individual is in service but the forces do not recruit individuals where they would only be able to serve from the outset in a medically restricted capacity.

The following table presents the numbers of service personnel medically discharged each year between 2004 and 2008 with diabetes as the principal cause leading to discharge. Figures have been compiled using the International Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems version 10 (ICD 10). Small totals of individuals (fewer than 5) are not shown, in line with Office for National Statistics Guidelines, in order to protect individual identities. Such numbers are represented as *.

Year of medical discharge
All 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008
Navy(1) 27 7 * 6 7 *
Army 17 6 * 5 * *
RAF 8 * * * * *
(1) Includes Royal Navy and Royal Marines.

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