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The Invictus Games Will Show Us What Is Possible Through Rehabilitation

20/08/2014 17:05 BST | Updated 20/10/2014 10:59 BST

The Invictus Games, which begin next month, will deliver stories of incredible physical and mental strength.

The event involves service men and women from 14 countries who suffered horrific injuries and went through months and even years of rehabilitation.

Launching the event, Prince Harry said it would "demonstrate the power of sports to inspire recovery, support rehabilitation and to demonstrate life beyond disability".

The performances of the UK competitors will also demonstrate what is possible through effective, ongoing rehabilitation.

And while we will be inspired by what they achieve on the field of play, the NHS should also take inspiration from the process, structures and services that helped get them there.

Because while our health service is world class when it comes to saving lives, too often what comes next fails to live up to that standard.

Last week, I visited the major trauma centre at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, where all troops who are injured overseas are taken for treatment.

I met the physiotherapists working with military and non-military patients under the same roof and witnessed the recoveries being made there.

The rehab is intensive, demanding and exhausting for all concerned. It is also transformative and the first part of the long journey back to as close to normality as is possible.

Once patients are discharged, however, the differences become clear - and the lessons for the NHS become obvious.

Service personnel mostly go to a facility like Headley Court, where their rehabilitation continues unbroken and allows for their progress to remain unchecked.

Overseeing this process is a single, named individual - usually a physiotherapist - who ensures all of their health and social care needs are met throughout that time.

This enables them to cope with both the shift to civilian life, and the new reality of living with their condition and is an essential part of their rehabilitation.

It is an excellent system.

Now compare that with how non-military NHS patients across the country are treated once they leave hospital.

Too many people are finding that support in the community - whether from health or social care services - is lacking.

If they get any physiotherapy, it comes weeks after they left hospital and lacks the frequency needed to be effective.

Social care packages get mired in delays and attempts to integrate services are minimal.

In the worst cases, residential care becomes a necessity and no kind of recovery will ever be made.

This is a terrible waste of life.

The broadcaster Andrew Marr has talked about fellow stroke patients he met who will spend decades in a wheelchair because they were not given the right access to the treatment they need.

The incredible work done to save the person's life then begin the process of rehabilitation in hospital has not been continued and the opportunity to enable a return to anything like their former condition has been lost.

Of course, there are areas of the country where excellent rehabilitation is available - but in a national health service, those exceptions should be the norm.

So there is a clinical imperative to make this happen, but we must also acknowledge the financial case for improving rehabilitation.

A person given excellent, ongoing rehabilitation should be able to live as independently as possible, returning to work if appropriate or otherwise resuming everyday tasks.

Their demand on health and social care services would be minimised because of their recovery.

When that support is lacking, however, the opposite is true and the costs are huge.

Finally, we also have a moral responsibility look after people at their lowest point and help them - quite literally - get back on their feet.

This is a central tenet of the health service but one that which it fails to live up to.

We have to do better.

The Invictus Games will demonstrate what is possible, and I hope NHS commissioners watching it will admire not only the performances of the competitors, but also the support that helped them along the way.