Coalition forces are playing catch-up when it comes to transitioning healthcare in Afghanistan, a top army doctor has claimed.
However, Northern Ireland-born Colonel Paul Parker, director of the field hospital at Camp Bastion - the main military base in Helmand Province - said significant progress was being made to enable Afghans to care for themselves when ISAF troops pull out next year. "I think we were behind the curve on mentoring and transitioning but we are trying to catch up," he said.
Previously the priority has centred on developing the soldiering capability of the Afghan National Security Forces, but there is now a major push - led by surgeons, doctors and nurses from the Northern Ireland-based Territorial Army unit 204 (Field Hospital), to provide the basic healthcare skills to army medics.
Colonel Parker, who has also served in Kosovo, Bosnia and Sierra Leone, said: "It is fair to say 204 (Field Hospital) is taking this on as a prime objective, realising that time is running out."
Training and mentoring sessions are held two or three times a week at an Afghan National Army (ANA) base named Shorobak which is adjacent to Camp Bastion.
Colonel Parker, who trained at Queen's University, Belfast, said: "What we are doing is working with the Afghan army doctors in Shorobak, which is the camp beside ours, looking to train them up to begin to treat more and more seriously injured casualties.
"We are running a mentorship programme with them. We have also received permission to actually bring them into the hospital and teach them basic surgical and anaesthetic skills so they can start to do more and more work on injured Afghan soldiers."
Lessons for medics who are out on the ground include tourniquet application - a vital piece of kit which has helped saved the lives of scores of British soldiers wounded in explosions. Those who are more hospital-based are taught how to use the tools and equipment such as fracture pins and frames that will be gifted when the British leave in 2014.
Colonel Parker added: "It is our hope they will have an Afghan system. What our principle is, is that Afghans should care for Afghans. We don't want to create a cycle of dependency. We want to gradually turn off access in the best possible way."
When the British leave the hospital at Camp Bastion will be stripped of expensive electronic equipment such as CT scanners and respiratory machines. However, more basic equipment is expected to be left, rather than being gotten rid of.