Nato-Russia Council

Improving Military Medical Care

Participants in the NATO-Russia Military Medical Activity observed RUBEZH 2012, a Russian tactical medical exercise

Military medicine has objectively become a vital area of international cooperation. All NATO-Russia Council nations face the same challenge of improving medical care for wounded military personnel as well as working to ensure the overall health of their Armed Forces. In a time of budget constraints, it makes even more sense for nations to share their own, often distinctive expertise in this important field to help each other better cope with force health and the medical demands of caring for the wounded and saving lives in the field.

Military medicine has often been at the forefront of innovation in medicine. The extreme circumstances, not seen in civilian life, necessitate innovative responses, in turn the advances made by military medicine are now being implemented in civilian hospitals around the world.

Platinum Ten Minutes

Civilian medical services have adopted the ‘platinum’ ten minutes for trauma victims. The first ten minutes from the moment of wounding, during which severe bleeding must be stopped and breathing secured. People in all walks of life are being saved by putting in place military medical innovations, which underline the importance of international cooperation and sharing of best practices in the field of Military Medicine.

Rescuing casualties from the field during RUBEZH 2012, a Russian tactical medical evactuaion exercise

Exchanging Experiences and Best Practices

Between 2008 and 2009, NRC military medical representatives intensified the discussion started in 2002 on cooperation in Military Medicine, and in June 2010, Russia hosted the first ever NRC military medical event in Svetlogorsk in the Kaliningrad region. The event began with a Russian demonstration exercise, involving a scenario of a terrorist attack at sea and the subsequent evacuation of casualties ashore. The Russian military demonstrated some of their medical capabilities during the exercise, including tactical Critical Combat Care (TCCC); first responders care; and field hospital with surgical capability together with ground as well as rotor wing medical evacuation assets. The event continued with participants sharing lessons learned on military medical provision, as well as force health protection and disease surveillance relevant to the operational theatre in Afghanistan.

Work on military medicine in the NRC continued in March 2011 with a seminar in Madrid focused on sharing lessons learned on Medical Evacuation and patient treatment practices during engagement in Afghanistan and other theaters of operation. The seminar also included a visit to the Medical Brigade (BRISAN) located in Madrid for a guided tour of a Spanish Enhanced Field Hospital on static display. The combined CBRN decontamination unit and CBRN medical treatment facility were also on display.

Building on these experiences, Russia hosted the NATO-Russia Military Medical Activity in 2012, along with a military medicine seminar at the Military Medical Academy in St. Petersburg, a world renowned medical facility. The theme of the activity was operational medical support under austere conditions. NATO delegates participated as observers in RUBEZH 2012, a tactical medical exercise. The scenario for the exercise was combating insurgents in a small village still inhabited by civilians, and the exercise covered areas of treatment from tactical critical combat care at the point of injury, to final treatment at Role 3 Field hospital level.

The Main Military Medical Academy in St. Petersburg

Day two of the seminar was hosted by Russia’s Military Medical Academy. The program was focused on sharing best medical practices and lessons learned from patient treatment in Afghanistan and other current theatres of operations. The topics included: Emergency medical aid in large-scale casualty situations at various stages of Medical Evacuation; the Operation of medical facilities under strict epidemiology regime; Medical care under CRBN conditions and; Modern tactics, techniques and means of Medical Evacuation of casualties from the battlefield; and medical support at the tactical and operational level.

NRC work on military medicine is not limited to these large scale events. Russia also regularly participates in other events, including regular flight surgeons’ conferences. NRC nations also participate together in medical courses at NATO School Oberammergau and NATO Military Medical Centre of Excellence in Hungary.

Russian surgeons demonstrating field hospital surgical capabilities during RUBEZH 2012

Building blocks for future cooperation

The goal for NATO-Russia Council nations is to move beyond sharing lessons learned to concrete cooperation that brings tangible results through enhancing interoperability, a key element of medical cooperation during military operations. NRC nations have identified the treatment of CBRN casualties, major incidents medical management and medical support to military units afloat as key areas of interest for future cooperation and activities.

In 2013, there is a full schedule of NATO-Russia Council medical activities planned. An NRC subject matter expert meeting on CBRN medical has already been held in February in Brussels, during which a table top exercise was conducted on “International Health Regulation” followed by CBRN Casualty evacuation workshop.

In March, there will be an NRC subject matter expert meeting on Force Health Protection in Germany. In September, Denmark will host the NATO-Russia Military Medical Activity 2013 in Copenhagen on the theme of ‘Aeromedical evacuation’. An advanced research workshop on telemedicine will build on the successful NRC SPS conference held in 2012.

In the field of counter piracy in particular, NRC representatives are working extremely hard to explore the provision of mutual medical support for ships at sea involved in counter piracy operations. This year a workshop in Lisbon, on mutual emergency medical support for ships involved in current and future operations, will take place to further explore this potential area of cooperation.

NATO-Russia Council Military Medicine Lt. Col. Birthe Henriksen

Lieutenant Colonel Birthe Henriksen

Speaking to Lieutenant Colonel Birthe Henriksen described her experience of NRC cooperation in military medicine:

"Cooperation between NRC nations in the field of military medicine has built confidence between nations. It is a natural area of cooperation, all NRC nations are keen to improve their skills in this vital area and sharing experience and lessons learned from applying medicine in the field, particularly in combat situations, can be a key way of doing this. Concrete cooperation is the next step which we want to work towards.

At the end of the day doctors no matter which country they are from agree to the same principles of care encapsulated in their Hippocratic Oath, and we can often do this better by sharing specialist knowledge and so advancing the field as a whole."