The origins of the DNRC programme

The armed forces have a duty to use significant force when necessary in pursuit of the nation’s interests. In training and on operations the risks are high and physical hardship, and often injury, are willingly accepted parts of their lives. When Servicemen and women are injured, by whatever means, it is essential that they receive top quality care and, if possible, are returned to service quickly – as they cannot be replaced.

Military rehabilitation is currently undertaken at Headley Court in Surrey which originally opened in 1947 to treat RAF aircrew. Today it provides high grade treatment for all 3 of the armed services and all ranks, dealing with injuries which, in many cases, would have been fatal even a decade ago. Headley Court is a small site and, despite continuing investment that quite rightly has ensured that people continue to be treated to the best possible degree, the ability to modernize it to the fullest degree will soon be limited.

So the issue was whether it would be feasible to create a 21st century replacement which could readily take account of the advances in technology and clinical research that promise to dramatically alter the nature of rehabilitation medicine. Prompted by an offer from the Duke of Westminster, who had a long and distinguished career in the Reserve Army, to purchase a suitable site, a comprehensive feasibility study was commissioned following approval by the Government through the issue of a Written Ministerial Statement (WMS) in June 2009.

This study, funded by the Duke, looked at whether a 21st century version of Headley Court was needed. The concept envisaged not only provision of a new military establishment, but also acquisition of a site large enough to allow the development of national facilities too – recognizing that rehabilitation of those disabled and unable to work in civilian life is a major policy area within Government and that the expertise that exists within Defence medicine could be shared for the benefit of the Nation as a whole. With this in mind, the notion of a Defence and National Rehabilitation Centre (DNRC) on the one site was conceived.

In October 2011 the Secretary of State for Defence issued a second WMS in which the Government considered that ‘A DNRC offers the clear and compelling opportunity to realise the full benefits of future advances and we should seize it for the medium to long-term’ and indicated that ‘The next steps will be to develop further the concept for the national elements and to embark upon acquiring the necessary capital through a fundraising campaign’. At the same time it was stated that ‘His [the Duke of Westminster’s] generosity has now extended to the acquisition of the test site [the Stanford Hall Estate] so that, as a first step, a dialogue with the planning authority can take place to explore the site’s DNRC potential’.

Full planning permission and Listed Building Consent for the Defence establishment, together with outline planning permission for the national facility, was secured in October 2013. In July 2014 the Secretary of State for Defence issued a third WMS announcing that ‘the Ministry of Defence intends to transfer its Rehabilitation Centre at Headley Court to the Stanford Hall Estate facility when it opens in 2017’ and noting that ‘the DNRC Programme will now move to the tendering stage with a view to construction work starting in 2015’.

Recognizing that plans for the national facility would be brought forward on different timescales, the WMS also noted that the planning application ‘was entered into on the basis that a full business case for the civilian National facility, which will determine the best mix of facilities, will be considered in 2016’.

In 2016, in conjunction with Government departments, the national opportunities were explored by the Black Charity in the form of a National Workstream Steering Group and 3 working groups covering patient care, training and education and research and development.  The evidence gathered in that year will be considered by Government in 2017 with a view to an outline business case being developed.  The significance of the national opportunities is explained here.