Michael Moss, age 20 from London, has been declared medically unfit for service in the British army because of the prescription of an inhaler for asthma and for a nut allergy which is so weak that it doesn’t require him to carry an epipen.
Michael has wanted to join the Royal Engineers since being a member of the Royal Engineer Army Cadets at secondary school. He doesn’t believe his asthma would affect his ability to operate in the army as he exercises regularly at his gym and has ‘never had to throw in the towel because of asthma’, Michael states.
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.
Michael 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. In Michael’s case, he is clearly agitated by the fact he hasn’t been given the chance to prove his abilities in the Royal Engineers, and doubly so as it has been revealed in an article in The Express that the Royal Engineers are currently ‘missing’ 684 troops. It is people like Michael who are the solution to this armed forces recruitment crisis.’
In Michael’s medical appeals, he points to the Australian Defence Force (ADF) where they take a more comprehensible approach by looking at applicants on a case-by-case basis as opposed to a blanket ban for asthma which is how the British army treats it’s applicants.
ADF candidates are scrutinised against the Asthma Management Handbook guidelines which places applicants in one of five categories. Anyone without asthma within 3 years prior to joining are deemed fit (4 years in the British army). If a candidate has had asthma within 3 years, they are classed as either intermittent, mild persistent, moderate persistent or severe persistent.
Any applicant with moderate persistent or severe persistent asthma would not be fit to join the ADF. If however the asthma is deemed to be mild, as Michael believes it is in his case, a candidate would be tested by ‘bronchial provocation testing (BPT) to assess bronchial reactivity.’
You can see how the ADF tests asthma with the following diagram taken from ‘Asthma and eligibility for the Australian Defence Force’ guidelines. Full document here:
If the applicant has been cleared for duty in the ADF, they are then referred to their GP who will provide advice regarding managing their asthma in the armed forces in the form of:
1. A written Asthma Action Plan
2. Sufficient medications to last 1 month and a prescription to last 2 months
3. Education regarding their asthma and their action plan
This approach to dealing with asthma seems more realistic as it allows people who can manage their asthma to enter the armed forces, as opposed to the blanket ban we see here in the UK. Michael believes the same standards should be seen in the British armed forces by taking the ADF’s lead.
Continuing to look abroad, and to see how other nation’s armed forces cope with asthmatic recruits, it appears that the New Zealand Defence Force has a similar approach to the ADF. It is stated that a NZDF recruit must ‘need to provide proof that (their) asthma is completely controlled, including a negative hypertonic saline challenge test and evidence that (they're) not on any long-acting beta agonist medication (eg Seretide).’ This seems to be a more logical approach as opposed to a blanket ban. Likewise in the USA, it appears that asthma will only be a disqualifying factor if it occurs after the applicants 13th birthday.
Michael was informed by a letter from the British Army Headquarters 'that these entry standards are reviewed regularly, by specialist occupational physicians from all three Services.' However Michael responded 'I think the standards are way too high and I don't believe that any of the three services nor the MOD have researched asthma like the ADF did.'
Michael is currently living in London and works as a security guard but looks to attend college in September to study a BTEC in Public Service for two years. He added 'I sincerely wish that within those 2 years there is a change in medical standards and I hope things go well in regards to the Right to Fight campaign.’
He continues to appeal his medical rejection and has the support of his local MP.