Patrick Mercer: We can work together for our fallen heroes and their families

THERE is no doubt that treatment of our wounded servicemen and women has improved considerably since the start of the Helmand Campaign. And so it should – it needed to.

I won't rehearse the difficulties that the Defence Medical Services faced in gearing up their activities in Selly Oak Hospital from a "normal" level of "peacetime" casualties to meet the demands first of Iraq and then of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Ministry of Defence struggled first to understand the need for discrete medical treatment then to deliver it. Whilst not perfect, things are now much better.

However, there is one issue that has caused a number of different problems in my constituency. Newark provides a large number of servicemen across the Forces and, not surprisingly, our lads have taken a lot of casualties. Especially in Afghanistan, the effects of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) have left two dead, five of my constituents limbless and an undisclosed number with mental difficulties. Now, as I have said, the treatment for these troops has been great, but what about their families?

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Let me illustrate. One of the first Newarkers to be injured lost a leg. Not unreasonably, his mother wanted to be by his side in Selly Oak as soon as she could, but this left his dad having to look after two children of school age whilst trying to hold down his lorry driver's job. Initially, his employer was not terribly sympathetic – in fairness I don't think the case had been properly explained. But it became clear that money was needed to support the family's petrol, childcare and accommodation bills between Newark and Birmingham.

Then there was the case of a grievously injured bomb disposal officer whose life hung by a thread for several weeks. When I asked his wife how she spent last Christmas she commented, "crying mainly". It was clear to me that both cases need special and individual attention. The first case was dealt with relatively simply when we raised some money but the second case required the mother, her friend and two children to be sent away to Euro Disney for a decent break. Money well spent, says I.

But the real question is where the money came from. My PA and I gathered a little group around us and stole an idea from the Second World War called the Newark Patriotic Fund. We tried all sorts of novel methods to raise money but, broadly, once the people of Newark realised what we were up to, then the money began to seep in.

Now, we have to ask, should ordinary citizens be contributing money towards causes like this or should the Government do the whole thing for us? Once again, I reach for my history books and point out that for at least the last 200 years, local communities have raised money for their injured warriors and their families. I suppose that in an ideal world every facet of care would be dealt with by a grateful government but there is no doubt that our efforts have served to focus Newark's mind on the sacrifice that our men (and, so far, no women) are making. When we are collecting for the Patriotic Fund, it is always the lads with their prosthetic limbs who raise the most money.

It also surprised and delighted me how willing schools are to have their injured ex-pupils back among them. I thought there might be some mawkish attempts to screen children from the realities of war but, I am glad to say, that has not been the case. I was also very pleased to see how generous the schools were towards the Fund. So, I strongly believe that we learnt the wrong lessons for military medical care in the 1990s and allowed uniformed clinical care to dwindle.

Indeed, while I was still serving there seemed to be a general

sentiment that we would never fight a "real" war again. As a result, we had neither the wards nor the bed spaces to deal with the problems when they actually occurred. Selly Oak and Headley Court Hospitals are still very far from perfect – but they are a damn site better than they were.

There is still a place, though, for local military charities. The Royal British Legion, Help for Heroes and Combat Stress – to name just three –do a splendid job but I have been astounded by the response of my constituents to the plight of their wounded fighting men.

Next week the Mayor and I will present certificates of honour to our wounded heroes. They copy directly those that were presented to Newark's men and women in the two World Wars and they are an expression of pride from the town to its fighting men.

Patrick Mercer is a former soldier who served in the Sherwood Foresters. He is now Conservative MP for Newark.