19 Feb 2013

Bionic legs for wounded soldiers

Wounded service personnel have welcomed a government move to guarantee leg amputees get the most up-to-date prosthetic limbs available.

Bionic legs for wounded soldiers

Whitehall today announced an extra £6.5m to ensure all members of the armed forces, past and present, who have been injured in Iraq or Afghanistan will be able to have the limbs, known as “bionic legs”.

Paralympic rower Captain Nick Beighton, who competed in London 2012, lost both his legs in a blast while on a foot patrol in Afghanistan in 2009.

The 31-year-old Royal Engineer, now with 3 Regiment RSME (Royal School of Military Engineering) said: “To have the opportunity to try it and to use it and get the latest technology is fabulous for us because it just gives us that freedom to get out and do more things and have greater functionality and more independence, essentially.”

Bionic leg ‘best option’

Speaking at the military rehabilitation centre at Headley Court in Surrey, the officer who had his right leg blown off through the knee and his left leg above the knee, said the “micro processor” limb was a “big step up in technology”.

He added: “As you build your strength up and build you independence up, you obviously want to functionally be at a higher level, and that’s what this leg offers.”

Watch more: Channel 4's How to Build a Bionic Man

The money has been made available by the chancellor from the Treasury’s special reserve.

All wounded servicemen and women will now have access to the “bionic leg” – made famous by the British Paralympic discus thrower Derek Derenalagi last summer – where doctors agree it is the best option.

Improve quality of life

Experts said the micro processor knee will dramatically improve the quality of life for rehabilitation amputees, providing better stability, greater mobility and improvements in the ability to step over obstacles, negotiate stairs and walk backwards safely.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said: “One of this government’s top priorities has always been to give our troops the best possible care and support.

“There is no greater example of this than Headley Court, which provides world class medical care and rehabilitation for personnel that have been injured while serving their country.

“Last year we spent £22m improving the facilities at Headley Court and I am delighted to announce that we will now spend £6.5m to ensure UK servicemen and veterans injured in Afghanistan or Iraq will have the opportunity to upgrade to the most technologically advanced prosthetics currently available.”

Humanitarian photographer and triple amputee Giles Duley returns to Afghanistan to document the impact of the war on civilians:
Walking Wounded: Return to the Frontline

New funding

The new funding will benefit around 160 individuals who were injured on Operation Telic in Iraq or Operation Herrick in Afghanistan.

Surgeon General Air Marshal Paul Evans said: “The next generation of micro processor knee is a fantastic prosthetic development and now seen to have proven benefits for certain amputees. It will improve the quality of life and rehabilitation for our patients, where it is clinically suitable.

“Not only does it provide better stability and improved mobility but will also help reduce back pain and aid rehabilitation generally.

“The team at Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre are now planning for individual patients to be offered the next generation of micro processor knee where clinically appropriate.”

While more bionic limbs for ex-armed forces personnel have been welcomed, there is still some way to go for civilians who need prostheses, as Channel 4 News reported last year. For many, even getting basic walking legs can be a struggle.