For many, joining the British army is a childhood dream and all too often in recent years, dreams have been tarnished because of the army’s strict medical policies. It rejects candidates with seemingly manageable medical conditions.
This is the situation Matt, a 16 year old from County Down, currently finds himself in.
Last year, he applied for the British Army Officer Bursary Scheme to compliment studying Physiotherapy at University. Matt was told that he could not fulfil his life’s ambition of joining the army because he has been advised to carry an epipen for a nut allergy.
Despite keeping fit regularly by playing rugby and developing his leadership skills through being a senior member of the Scouts, Matt’s military application was rejected in line with the strict JSP 950 tri-service medical policy which sets an overarching series of standards for the Army, RAF, Royal Navy and the Royal Marines. The same rules apply to all roles, whether that be for front line duties or desk jobs.
Matt has never had to use his epipen for an allergy which he has successfully managed since its diagnosis in 2005.
In a personal letter from Mark Lancaster MP, The Minister Of State For The Armed Forces, Matt was informed that ‘All Service personnel are expected to be able to deploy quickly anywhere in the world, often to operate in remote locations far from medical care. Given this, we cannot guarantee access to an exclusion diet for personnel in all circumstances or an individual’s ability to self-police an exclusion diet through labelling or identification of trigger constituents.’
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.
Matt 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 also for a nut allergy, stated ‘Too many people come to us after being rejected from the army with manageable medical conditions such as allergies. 14,000 candidates are rejected each year for medical conditions which could easily breach the recruitment gap by sourcing the 5,500 troops needed to bring the army’s personnel levels up to target simply by re-evaluating their own medical policies. Matt needs to be able to prove his ability and potential as an officer in the army and not be subjected to a blanket ban on a medical condition which he has clearly and successfully managed for 13 years.’
Matt, currently at school in his final year of GCSE, stated "I think that the way we're not even considered by the armed forces when recruitment is way below target is an absolute joke. I think it's time that a group of like minded people stood up to change these outdated requirements as more and more people are being diagnosed with food allergies."