The NHS may be on the frontline but our Armed Forces will always have their backs

Ben Wallace
Soldiers help to unload equipment at the new NHS Nightingale hospital in London - Glyn Kirk/AFP

On Thursday evening the sound of applause rang out from windows and doorsteps across the land as the nation paid tribute to our fantastic NHS. Our world-class doctors and nurses are on the frontline in the fight against this global pandemic and I want them to know that our Armed Forces have always got their backs.

In times like these our Military contributes unique skills in medical care, but also logistics, forward planning, command and control. They are already working across Government to plan for future weeks, so the NHS frontline can be freed to treat the population today. Rest assured, come what may, they will stand by our Nation.

Army drivers are giving their all to get medical staff the “armour” they need - transporting 50,000 sets of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to St Thomas’ Hospital and training to deliver vital oxygen tanks to NHS facilities.

With the capital currently bearing the brunt of coronavirus, medics and military have been joining forces at the Excel Centre in London’s Docklands. Their shared efforts and ingenuity have seen the new NHS Nightingale hospital - with capacity to treat some 4,000 patients - rapidly take shape and it will be ready to receive its first patients this week.

But the Armed Forces are not just showing solidarity with the NHS in London. They are contributing their skills and capabilities to the government’s efforts in every corner of the United Kingdom. 

Military planners are supporting the preparations for further NHS hospitals elsewhere in the country and our logisticians are helping to distribute that same PPE to medical colleagues wherever it’s needed.

We’re stepping up in Scotland, where the RAF’s A400M Transport Aircraft have already been called into action to airlift a critically-ill patient from the Shetland Islands to an intensive care bed in Aberdeen. 

Puma helicopters have been forward-deployed to Kinloss Barracks in Moray. Together with the Chinook and Wildcat helicopters based at RAF Leeming in North Yorkshire, they are ready to support our emergency services and local communities across the north of England and throughout the highlands and islands of Scotland.

Further helicopter facilities will provide aviation ‘hubs’ at RAF Benson, RAF Odiham and RNAS Yeovilton to respectively support the Midlands, the South and Southwest.

On the ground, military planners and logisticians are supporting colleagues across government in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. They are contributing to the planning of a truly national response, from the executives of the Devolved Administrations to the more than 180 Local Resilience Forums spread throughout the country.

This is truly unprecedented cross-government cooperation for these unparalleled times. While our Armed Forces continue their critical operations at home and overseas, fulfilling our commitments to NATO, and ensuring the integrity and security of our Overseas Territories. They have also been working with the FCO to repatriate British citizens from around the world – most recently hundreds stranded in Peru. 

With misinformation and disinformation running rife they have been supporting the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to swiftly bust the myths and provide a clearer picture of what’s really going on. There are even scientists from the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory getting their heads together with Public Health England to understand the virus and help tackle its spread.

Every day I am impressed by the expertise and the determination of our forces to work through the night to deliver on their tasks. I am proud of each and every member of the forces, as they maintain their defence tasks and also mobilise for coronavirus.

While our newly established ‘Covid Support Force’ has now deployed over 900 specialist personnel – with 20,000 more waiting in the wings – the bottom line is that the Armed Forces are well-prepared and rehearsed for such threats.

Coronavirus presents a clear and present danger to us all. Our National Health Service is on the frontline of this fight, but it does not fight alone. We’re in this together and the Armed Forces stand ready to do whatever it takes to provide our inspiring colleagues in the NHS and across government, whatever support they need to defeat this deadly virus.

Ben Wallace is Secretary of State for Defence