Wounded service personnel have welcomed a government move to guarantee that leg amputees will get the most up-to-date prosthetic limbs available.
Whitehall today announced a funding boost of £6.5 million to ensure all members of the Armed Forces – past and present – who have been injured in Iraq or Afghanistan will be able to have state-of-the-art micro processor limbs, known as “bionic legs”.
Paralympic rower Captain Nick Beighton, who competed in London 2012, lost both his legs in a blast while on a foot patrol in Afghanistan in 2009.
The 31-year-old Royal Engineer, now with 3 Regiment RSME (Royal School of Military Engineering) said of the high-tech Genium leg: “To have the opportunity to try it and to use it and get the latest technology is fabulous for us because it just gives us that freedom to get out and do more things and have greater functionality and more independence, essentially.”
Speaking at the military rehabilitation centre at Headley Court in Surrey, the officer who had his right leg blown off through the knee and his left leg above the knee, said the micro processor limb was a “big step-up in technology”. He added: “As you build your strength up and build your independence up, you obviously want to functionally be at a higher level, and that’s what this leg offers.”
The £6.5m has been made available by the Chancellor from the Treasury’s Special Reserve. All wounded servicemen and women will now have access to the “bionic leg” – made famous by the British Paralympic discus thrower Derek Derenalagi last summer – where clinical conditions indicate the limb is appropriate.
Experts said the micro processor knee will provide better stability, greater mobility and improvements in the ability to step over obstacles, negotiate stairs and walk backwards safely. Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said: “One of this government’s top priorities has always been to give our troops the best possible care and support.
“There is no greater example of this than Headley Court, which provides world-class medical care and rehabilitation for personnel injured while serving their country.
“Last year, we spent £22m improving the facilities at Headley Court and I am delighted to announce that we will now spend £6.5m to ensure UK servicemen and veterans injured in Afghanistan or Iraq will have the opportunity to upgrade to the most-technologically advanced prosthetics available.”
The new funding will benefit about 160 individuals injured on Operation Telic in Iraq or Operation Herrick in Afghanistan.
Surgeon General Air Marshal Paul Evans said: “The next generation of micro processor knee …will improve the quality of life and rehabilitation for our patients, where it is clinically suitable. Not only does it provide better stability and improved mobility, but it will also help reduce back pain and aid rehabilitation generally.”
Chancellor George Osborne said: “Our troops are heroes who have, and continue to give, absolutely everything for their country and it is only right that we do everything possible to help them, especially when they suffer injury.
“I am delighted, therefore, that we have been able to make funding available for this cutting-edge prosthetic technology, which will go a long way to improving the lives of people who have done so much for the UK.”