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Is the defence budget increase enough to protect our Armed Forces?

Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is a significant health concern in the military, where the exposure to loud noises from weaponry and machinery is common. 

The use of personal protective equipment (PPE) is crucial to protect service personnel’s hearing. However, ensuring adequate funding and resources for effective PPE is a complex issue that involves various factors, including technological development, procurement policies, and economic conditions. 

Following Prime Minister Rishi Sunak confirming a rise to 2.5% of national income being spent on UK military spending by 2030, during Deafness Awareness Week, we look at the implications of this and whether increased spending will be enough to protect service personnel’s health? 

Defence spending leaves forces under-equipped

Defence spending has slowly declined since its peak of 5.5% of GDP after the Falklands conflict down to 2.1% since 2015. These real-world cuts have left the British Armed forces woefully underfunded and under-equipped in the modern sphere of military operations. 

Spending cuts generally have been detrimental to the provision of sufficient PPE through decades of cost-saving cuts made by successive governments. Hearing protection has been treated as a low priority for many years; a failure which is still felt today as NIHL diagnoses continue to be made on the backdrop of poor/incompatible PPE. 

What is the health price on service personnel?

Following the government’s recent announcement, we must consider the health price that will be paid by service personnel through the building of stockpiles of ammunition, in particular artillery shells and missiles. 

Further specific details of the spending allocation are yet to be confirmed but one can reasonably presume increased ammunition spending will include increased exposure to live ammunitions through testing and exercises. As such, there's now warranted concern that the essential PPE may not be equally invested to ensure hearing is protected. 

At the end of last year, it was reported by the National Audit Office that there was a £16.9bn “black hole” in the Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) finances; despite an injection of £46.3bn being planned over the next 10 years at that time. 

At this stage one can only speculate whether the MoD will have the financial capacity to meet the extended programmes, in a way which is conducive to preserving the hearing of service personnel. The financial “black hole” does not appear to be solid ground on which to develop further PPE investment and there is concern the MoD may struggle at grappling between its financial health, attempting to provide increased commitments and ensuring adequate PPE is provided.

Specific detail of whether such PPE will be appropriately funded is yet to be seen. Ensuring correct and sufficient hearing protection is provided should not be an overlooked matter. The MoD should be prepared to contemplate criticisms levied against it through the course of NIHL personal injury litigation, which make its failings in the provision of adequate hearing protection very clear. 

Hearing protection not mentioned in PPE supplies opportunity

In April, a future supplies opportunity was published on behalf of the MoD for the supply of mixed PPE. The opportunity notice includes the potential requirement to supply items consisting of – but not limited to: mechanical and chemical gloves, eyewear, headwear, disposable and half masks, negative pressure masks, positive pressure masks, sunglasses and flight deck goggles. It is distinctly noted that the standard CPV code for hearing protection / telecommunications equipment and supplies, is not mentioned. 

Of course, there may be scope for further procurement items and notices which include hearing protection specific PPE. I hope and expect to see formalisation of this as soon as possible. 

Legal support for those affected by hearing loss

For so many service personnel a noise-induced hearing loss diagnosis is career ending. Irwin Mitchell is here to do everything possible to help and ensure those that have lost their careers, are returned as nearly as possible to the position they would have been in but for their noise exposure which has damaged their hearing. 

A service career cannot simply be replaced. However, we champion the lives of service personnel and their families, which are so often and will continue to be devastated by a lack of proper hearing protection. 

Find out more about our expertise in supporting our service personnel at our dedicated military injuries section.