HRH the Duke of Sussex visits the world’s first conflict wound research centre

HRH The Duke of Sussex today visited the world’s first specialist military and civilian wound research centre at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham today, where he met armed forces’ veterans and scientific and clinical experts spearheading new treatments. The Scar Free Foundation Centre for Conflict Wound Research is a ground-breaking national facility. Its main aim is to minimise the psychological and physical impact of scarring and limb loss among armed forces personnel injured in service and civilians wounded in terrorist attacks.

Photo by James Allen

Scarring can have a significant long-term physical and psychological impact on survivors of conflict. More than 6,000 members of the British armed forces have been seriously injured or scarred in recent conflicts. The new centre supports the creation of bespoke psychological interventions to help veterans and their families adjust to living with an altered appearance such as physical scarring (anywhere on the body) or limb loss.

The Centre, which was officially opened by Her Royal Highness The Countess of Wessex in October last year, is a research partnership with the University of Birmingham, University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust and the Centre for Appearance Research at The University of the West of England.

The centre will pilot tailored psychological treatments to help seriously injured armed forces personnel cope with life with an altered, scarred appearance. This study, called ‘UNITS’ (Understanding Needs and Interventions for the Treatment of Scarring), will involve veterans from recent operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, recruited through the CASEVAC Club whose membership is solely made up of veterans wounded in combat. 

The UNITS study will recruit veterans, serving military personnel and their families to better understand and address the psychological needs of those affected by appearance-altering conflict wounds. More than 460 people will take part in the research over the next three years. Armed forces personnel and their families interested in participating in the psychological study can email to get involved.

On the visit His Royal Highness observed Scar Free research, including an anti-scarring gel dressing for use in austere environments and was particularly interested in how they collaborate with key partners to address the challenges in acute care, long-term impact and psychological effects of conflict related injuries.

As well as learning about Scar Free research, Prince Harry spent time with members of the CASEVAC Club, made up of veterans injured in Iraq and Afghanistan, many of whom have also participated in the Invictus Games. The CASEVAC Club are involved in the trial and design of research underway at the Centre and many members will participate in Scar Free studies.

In addition to exploring the psychological impact of scarring and developing new treatments, the centre is bringing together leading scientists and clinicians to investigate the body’s healing process following trauma associated with chemical, burn and blast injuries. The Duke will also meet the expert team spearheading new clinical and biological treatments to reduce scarring. These include Decorin, a pro-healing protein developed within a new biomaterial gel for use as an anti-scarring dressing, along with laser therapy to correct historic scars.

Dave Henson, Co-Founder of The CASEVAC Club said: “The membership of the CASEVAC Club is comprised of unexpected survivors – those that, by rights, should have died on the battlefield.  For many, surviving wounds of their severity is unheard of and new to medical science. We are actively engaging with this research because the knowledge that can be gained will provide insights that can increase the likelihood of future unexpected survivors, and improve the outcome for survivors of traumatic injury in general.

Brendan Eley, Chief Executive of the Scar Free Foundation, said: “Scarring not only has a lasting physical effect, but can have a serious emotional impact long after the wounds themselves have healed. The visible changes in appearance caused by conflict injuries that result in looking ‘different’ can be distressing for military personnel and their families. With the help of the people who have experienced this kind of life changing injury we can learn what support is needed by those affected, and develop tailored interventions for the armed forces community, an important part of our goal to deliver scar free healing within a generation.”