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Military Non-Freezing Cold Injury (NFCI): A legacy problem?

Cold Injury. NFCI. Trench foot. Call it what you will, it's not going away and continues to be a real problem for the modern day soldier. 

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has been aware of the condition and the risks it poses to our troops for years. It caused major problems in the planning of attacks in the Falklands, and it was the military’s experiences in that conflict that led directly to the specialist clinic at Institute of Naval Medicine being set up and the very first DCI being written in the 1990’s.  Since then, Gore-Tex boots have become standard issue, training has found its way into Military Annual Training Tests (MATTs) and some standard risk assessments have been amended to at least mention NFCI. However, that's not been enough to keep our troops safe on exercise and ops. 

The MoD needs to go further

The MoD needs to create an environment where the risks are understood as real, and where servicemen and women don’t dismiss it as a curse of the weak or simply the price you pay if your admin is poor. 

The truth is it's none of those things. It's a potentially career-ending, life-long condition that can have a dramatic impact on your employability and ability to provide for your family in the longer term.  

The MoD will point to stats which show that the number of service personnel with NFCI is falling year-on-year.  Anything that reduces the number of our troops suffering injury and losing their careers must be a good thing, right? But what if those stats don’t show that? What if those stats merely reflect my anecdotal experience that more and more people reporting symptoms of NFCI are being told that they don’t have NFCI but that they have Raynaud’s Phenomenon (RP) instead? 

Why is this important? 

Why would the MoD care what diagnosis is made? The answer unfortunately comes down to money. Primary Raynaud’s is an idiopathic condition. One that just develops. It's nothing to do with the countless days and weeks service personnel spend living on cold, wet and windy training areas, shivering themselves to sleep under nothing more than a thin sheet of Gore-Tex. And if it isn’t caused by service, the MoD doesn’t have to make an award under the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme (AFCS) or compensate service personnel through a legal claim. They won’t even get their pension tax free!

What I've found most worrying is that the diagnosis of NFCI is often dismissed in favour of RP by doctors who haven’t even seen you! This is despite JSP 539 being clear that “a working diagnosis of NFCI should be made in Primary Healthcare by nominated NFCI clinicians and will be based upon comprehensive history, standardised clinical examination and specialist tests."

How we can help

Irwin Mitchell has acted for hundreds of soldiers with NFCI, many of whom came to us with a diagnosis of RP. We've worked with leading experts in the field to challenge the diagnosis and successfully prove that military service has caused the conditions our clients develop and as such force the MoD to take responsibility and ensure our clients receive the financial recompense they are legally entitled to.  

Find out more about our expertise in supporting armed forces personnel suffering from illness or injury.