Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Staff cuts on submarines impact on nuclear safety


Telegraph reports


“A fifth of submarine medics serving on board Trident nuclear deterrent and hunter killer submarines have been axed, including one who cared for the wounded on the HMS Astute after a crewman went on the rampage. It is understood that several sailors were told they were losing their jobs while conducting covert operations after their captains received a signal at sea from the Ministry of Defence”

“Medical Assistants (Submariners), known as MASMs, play a key role as they have to give both primary and secondary care to personnel on board when the boats are many miles from land. They also provide the main radiation checks and radiological safety on the Navy’s 11 nuclear powered submarines.”

“Their role is so important that if there are less than two on a Vanguard nuclear deterrent boat it cannot sail.”

“We were told that the Submarine Service was protected from cuts but now medics have fallen into the bracket which is absurd,” one submariner told The Daily Telegraph. “Submarine medics are sought after but we a losing almost a quarter of our quota of available medics.”.

“It is understood that between 15 and 25 out of 100 deployable medics have been sacked. The medics receive two years intensive training, including NHS placements, and train intensively on dealing with radiological illness and exposure. On special missions a doctor will join them on board.”

If true this indicates how safety is again being trumped by the urgent need to find cost savings. I also suspect that no assessment of the impact of these cuts on safety has been carried out, as required by para 45 of Chapter 3 of JSP 815 “Management of Organisational Change”. The MOD failed duty to respond to a FOI request on this issue dating back to July, despite a legal duty to do so within 20 working days.

Below is an extract from a course prospectus that gives a good indication of Medical Assistants (Submariners) and the their radiation protection duties.

  • I.A.W City and Guilds Radiation Safety Practice Scheme Handbook 7410
  • Biological Aspects of Ionising Radiation
  • Radiation Protection
  • Radiation Detection and Measurement
  • Structure of Matter and Radioactivity
  • Dosimetry
  • Storage and Transport of radioactive material
  • Accidents and Incidents.
  • Industrial uses of radioactive material
  • Regulation and Guidance
  • Environmental Control
This Guardian report on the 2010 DNESB annual report gives an indication of how the MOD is using the cuts in the number posts as a means of reducing the number of vacant SQEP posts which gives the appearance of an improvement in the situation.

SQEP staffing has been raised as a significant risk for a number of years in both the DESB and DNESB annual reports. See para 16 of the 2010 DNESB report.

So the statement “A Royal Navy spokesman said: "There will be no shortage of medical personnel on our submarines. Redundancies are only being made in surplus areas."  This seems very strange when set against the 2010 DESB and DNESB reports leaving open the question as to what is the true position!!  

The cuts also demonstrate how little notice Ministers take of reports from the MODs main nuclear and safety committees and the Defence Nuclear Safety Regulator.










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