Curtis Blyth, age 17 from Freuchie in Fife, has been deemed medically unfit for service in the RAF as a Cyberspace Communications Specialist.
He applied for a RAF apprenticeship scheme in June 2018. He sat the Airman Test which he scored very highly in at an assessment centre.
He then attended a medical assessment where his health was brought into question due to a common congenital chest deformity which can be associated with some cardiac conditions.
Curtis was informed that results from an echocardiogram would be needed to assess him accurately to deem his suitability for service as suspected pectus excavatum may be present which can affect cardiac and respiratory function which may promote pain in the chest and back.
In a letter from the RAF recruitment team, Curtis was informed that ‘New entrants in to the RAF undergo intensive training which is both physically and mentally demanding… For this reason, some medical conditions and on-going illnesses can stop you from joining.’
That said, after the echocardiogram test, a consultant cardiologist stated ‘There is no significant past medical history and it is relevant that he played competitive rugby at school. Currently he maintains no regular medical therapy.’ The cardiologist continued to state in a report that Curtis does not suffer from any symptoms affiliated with pectus excavatum, there were no heart murmurs and the chest was clear. He finished by stating that ‘Mr Blyth seems very fit. He eats a good diet and does not smoke or drink very much at all. I would place no restriction on his activities.’
The results seemed definitive.
The RAF responded in a letter that he would still be deemed unfit for service because of mild calcification on his aortic valve - which was discovered during the echocardiogram test.
This was not what Curtis was tested for and with the support of his local MSP, has sent a letter to the Secretary of State for Defence, Gavin Williamson MP. He stated that Curtis’s fitness was ‘brought into question initially by Capita from a visual inspection, all his cardio-pulmonary functions were above satisfaction.’
Curtis stated that mild calcification is not detrimental to cardio function and feels that as he has been subject to these test, shouldn’t all recruits be scrutinised in the same way, with an echocardiogram test?
This comes at a time when the armed forces are crying out for recruits. The Nation Audit Office claimed in April last year that more than 2400 engineers, 700 intelligence analysts and 800 pilots are needed. They also identified 102 different trades which are understaffed. 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 armed forces personnel recruitment gap.
Curtis and many others in his position have joined a campaign called Right To Fight which aims to change the British 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 military with manageable medical conditions. In Curtis’s case, he doesn’t appear to have any condition which would affect his ability to train or operate effectively, as is evident from his fitness and the echocardiogram examination. Curtis is fit, suitable and super keen to start his career in the Royal Air Force. I believe that he needs to be able to prove his capabilities during basic and trade training.’
Curtis, currently working in a local hotel while he appeals his case, stated ‘While I understand there has to be strict medical examinations of potential recruits, I feel there are times when the strict guidelines should be viewed with a degree of common sense. Young, fit people eager to serve their country are being denied by bureaucracy.’
When talking about the Right to Fight campaign, Curtis continued ‘I think it’s great that there are people willing to help people like me by bringing our cases to light when we feel we have been unfairly excluded from joining the forces. This may not help my personal case but will hopefully help others in the future.’
Curtis is awaiting a reply from the Secretary of State for Defence.