Simon, from Londonderry In Northern Ireland, joined the Royal Engineers and passed the applicable medical entrance exams in 2001. He was awaiting the dates to begin his phase 1 training but had to withdraw his application for unforeseen circumstances. Simon said it was the ‘biggest regret of my life’.
Fast forward 17 years and Simon has once again decided to join the British armed forces - this time in the Royal Signals reserve to compliment his civilian career as a telecoms engineer.
However, Simon has been rejected from the army over a genetic disorder called Familial Hypercholesterolaemia which causes elevated cholesterol. The army were made aware of the medical ailment when Simon first applied and did not consider it an issue. However, they have rejected his application this time around.
Simon would have been scrutinised against the JSP 950 tri-service medical standards which sets the standard for all of the British armed forces. The section and paragraph of the medical document which relates to Simon’s case states that ‘Candidates with a treated total cholesterol level of 8.0 mmol/l or more are graded P8 (permanently unsuitable for service) due to the increased morbidity associated with hypercholesterolaemia.’
That said, purely through a healthy diet, Simon maintains a healthy level of 6.4 which places his cholesterol level below the maximum threshold. When asked how he would cope on operations under physical exertion on a ration pack diet, Simon explained ‘Ration packs are fine as they are balanced and not high in saturated fat. It in no way affects my physical abilities. I run half marathons and run the 1.5m army fitness test in under 9 mins (14 mins is the maximum time limit for the Royal Signals) as well as training 6 days a week in the gym. I passed the assessment centre when I was 18 years old and I was nowhere near the fitness or strength level I am now.’
He continued ‘I fail to see how me having slightly raised cholesterol levels impacts me to such a degree that I would fail to perform my duties anymore than someone who smokes or drinks which is something that I don’t do.’
This medical rejection 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.
Simon 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 ‘Simon’s medical condition barely affects his ability to operate. His enthusiasm, dedication and fitness levels are going completely unnoticed by the army and he has been given a blanket ban on a medical condition which he is clearly managing. Recently, it has been revealed in an article in The Express that the Royal Signals are currently missing 800 troops - ‘the size of a full-blown battalion’. It is people like Simon who are the solution to this continuing armed forces recruitment crisis.’
When asked about his opinion on the current medical standards, Simon stated ‘I think the army medical rules are too stringent and should be changed with the utmost urgency to stop people being turned away needlessly.’
He continued, ‘I think the right to think campaign is an important movement. I just wish it was an unneeded one. The current medical requirements for the armed forces are far too strict and blanket bans are an unreasonable process to have as medical ailments affect different people in different ways therefore everyone should be evaluated on their own merits.’
Simon, confused to why he has been issued a medical rejection, is appealing the decision with the help of his local MP.