Thursday, 5 February 2004

Ceisteanna (11, 12)

Joe Sherlock

Ceist:

10 Mr. Sherlock asked the Minister for Defence the reason persons who are coeliacs are not regarded as suitable to be members of the Naval Service; if he will reconsider that policy, especially in view of the negative message that it sends out and the full role coeliacs play in other walks of life; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3284/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Defence)

Coeliac disease is an inflammatory bowel disorder which results when susceptible persons eat food containing gluten, a natural substance found in many common foodstuffs, including bread. The treatment is to adhere to a strict gluten-free diet. Strict adherence to such a diet results in complete relief from symptoms and is believed by current medical opinion to protect against complications of the disease such as osteoporosis and malignancy. Poor dietary control, on the other hand, may result in immediate illness and major complications in later life.

The professional advice of the expert medical military authority, the Director of the Medical Corps, is that the special dietary requirements of a person with a coeliac condition cannot be guaranteed throughout the range of possible operational circumstances which can be encountered in service in the Defence Forces.

Under the range of operational conditions in the Defence Forces, it is impossible for the military to guarantee an adequate supply of gluten-free food. Therefore, coeliacs in the Defence Forces are strictly limited in the range of duties to which they can be assigned, and the condition is seen as essentially incompatible with satisfactory military service. As a result, coeliacs are not accepted for enlistment into the Defence Forces, and recruits who are diagnosed as coeliac before they have been finally approved are not considered to meet the medical standard for final approval.

When a serving member of the Defence Forces suffers late-onset coeliac disease, he or she is medically downgraded according to the severity of the condition, and appropriate restrictions on duty are recommended. He or she is normally able to serve the remainder of his or her contract. In such cases, however, the condition may preclude further extension, re-engagement or continuance of service. It is fully accepted that people with this condition can have a full and normal life in most civilian occupations. However, I am satisfied that certain restrictions must apply in the case of Defence Forces personnel based on the exceptional nature of their occupation. It is not correct to interpret the Defence Forces position as a "negative" message regarding coeliac disease. The Defence Forces policy is based on the considered professional opinion of the military medical authorities.

It will always be the case that certain medical conditions will be incompatible with the demands of military service, although those conditions do not affect suitability for civilian employment.

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

11 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Defence the number of medical doctors serving as officers in the Defence Forces; the way in which it compares with the establishment level; the steps being taken to fill outstanding vacancies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3289/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

The military authorities advise that the current establishment for medical officers in the Permanent Defence Force is 51, and the current strength is 20. In common with other public sector health service providers, the Medical Corps encounters difficulty in the recruitment and retention of medical personnel. The Department of Defence, in consultation with the Director of the Medical Corps, is seeking ways to recruit additional medical personnel, notwithstanding those difficulties.

Over recent years, however, the Medical Corps has had difficulty in attracting more than one or two medical officers per year into the service. Part of the difficulty in attracting applicants may be due to the unique nature of military medical officer appointments. Service in the Medical Corps is not a professional training employment similar to non-consultant hospital doctor appointments or vocational training schemes in general practice.

Where no military medical or dental officer is available, suitable local arrangements are made with civilian medical and dental practitioners to ensure that the appropriate level of professional care is available to members of the Defence Forces.