Zack Bancroft, from Cockermouth in Cumbria, has been rejected by the army on seemingly non-impending medical grounds. This is despite Zack’s regular rugby training and performance in Judo at a competitive level.
Zack, age 17, applied for the army to join the Duke of Lancaster’s Infantry Regiment who pride themselves on their fierceness, strength, and courageousness. This has been a childhood dream enforced by the will to follow in his uncle’s and grandfather’s footsteps who both served in the Kings Own Royal Border Regiment which later transformed into the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment - referred to as ‘The Lions of England’.
The army rejected Zack’s application due to asthma and a prescription of prednisolone (an oral steroid given for chest infections) 9 years ago. However, there have always been questions over Zack’s alleged asthma from age 8 when it was first diagnosed. At that time, it was common practise to prescribe prednisolone for chest infections considered to be asthma related, but after a recent review from a nurse he has no longer been diagnosed as asthmatic and the nurse argued that asthma shouldn’t even be on Zack’s medical record.
Zack was originally told that he does not meet the current medical entry standards as outlined by the tri-service JSP 950 medical policy. He was informed that he will not be eligible for military service any sooner than 2021.
Not long after however, he received an email at 1 o'clock in the morning stating that he will no longer be able to apply for the army at any stage in the future as he has now been classified as ‘medically unfit for service’. This was devastating news for Zack who’s career ambitions were thwarted in such an impersonal way. Confusingly though, as stated by the army’s own medical standards, an applicant can apply only 4 years after having asthma.
But in Zack’s case, stating that he has asthma is redundant. Recently, he has had a spirometry test which proves that he doesn't have asthma.
This comes at a time when almost every infantry battalion is under strength, some by up to 50%. The civilian recruitment company, Capita, is coming under intense scrutiny from MPs at the Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee for not being able to bridge the army personnel recruitment gap. The army’s overall troop strength dropped for an eighth year in a row.
Zack and many others in his position have joined a campaign called Right To Fight which aims to change the armed forces medical policy to make ‘the medical standards fairer, more accessible and realistic whereby each recruit is judged on their personal attributes, life experience and the ability to operate effectively.’
The founder of the Right To Fight campaign, a recruit rejected from the Special Forces for a food allergy, stated ‘Too many people come to us after being rejected from the army with manageable medical conditions which is a shame to see. Yet in Zack’s case, he doesn’t appear to have any condition which would affect his ability to train or operate effectively at all.
He continued, ‘Shockingly, it was revealed that only 14% of army applicants end up joining. Furthermore, 47% of applicants voluntarily drop out through the lengthy process. Yet here we have Zack, a perfectly fit and super keen candidate who has been told he can’t join for nonsensical reasons. He needs to be able to prove his capabilities at infantry training. It is people like Zack who are the solution to the continuing recruitment crisis’.
Zack, currently studying a Public Services course at college, stated ‘I feel that the recruiting process with Capita does not allow people to be considered as individuals but simply rejects people out of hand based on a box being ticked on a form without further information - as in my situation on a childhood ailment I was treated for at 8 years old. It has been my dream to join the army and myself along with others are being turned down when we are perfectly able to serve. I am totally behind this campaign as it has made me feel supported and that I am being listened to, which I didn't feel was the case from Capita and the recruitment process.’
Zack’s mother, Melanie Bancroft, specialises as a Healthcare support worker and raised the consequential factor that ‘Given that mental health is such a high profile issue especially in young males it would appear that the rejection emails sent out (especially at 1am) with little to no explanation as to why does nothing to help these young people's mental wellbeing and confidence. In this instance Zack is well supported with a family with military experience however I strongly believe that a young person without that type of support could experience unhelpful, negative emotions.
Zack continues to appeal his medical rejection with strong support from his family and friends.