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Comparison between Defence Healthcare Engagement and humanitarian assistance
  1. Thomas Falconer Hall1,
  2. S Horne2 and
  3. D Ross3
  1. 1Army Medical Services, Camberley, UK
  2. 2Academic Department of Military Emergency Medicine, Royal Centre for Defence Medicine, Birmingham, UK
  3. 3Robertson House, Camberley, Surrey, UK
  1. Correspondence to Thomas Falconer Hall, AMS Support Unit, Army Medical Services, Camberley GU15 4LR, UK; tomfalconerhall{at}


Humanitarian assistance and Defence Healthcare Engagement have traditionally both been taught on the Medical Humanitarian Stabilisation Operations Course. However, the two activities are distinct. This paper outlines the critical differences between them, focusing on their specific purposes, scope, timescales and ethics. Humanitarian assistance will remain a distinct activity with a focus on the relief of suffering, guided by international norms, while Defence Healthcare Engagement will encompass a broader range of activities, less constrained by internationally agreed principles. This presents an opportunity for the Defence Medical Services to directly contribute to projecting UK influence, preventing conflict and building stability. However, it requires the Defence Medical Services to take responsibility for the ethical issues that Defence Healthcare Engagement raises. This paper recommends the development of an ethical framework that reconciles the strategic aims of Defence Healthcare Engagement with maximising patient welfare at the tactical level. This is a paper commissioned as a part of the Humanitarian and Disaster Relief Operations special issue of BMJ Military Health.

  • International health services
  • medical ethics
  • health policy

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  • Contributors TFH wrote the initial draft of the paper, with revisions and additions made by SH and DR.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Disclaimer The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the UK Defence Medical Services.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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