What is the Defence Medical Services (DMS)?

The primary role of the UK’s Defence  Medical Services (DMS) is to ensure that Service personnel are ready and medically fit to go where they are required in the UK and throughout the world – generally referred to as being ‘fit for task’.

DMS encompasses:

  • Medical;
  • Dental;
  • Nursing;
  • Allied health professionals (AHP);
  • Paramedical; and
  • Support personnel.

It is staffed by around 7000 regular uniformed and reserve medical personnel, and provides healthcare to all Service personnel.

Personnel from all three Services, regulars and reservists, work alongside civil servants and other supporting units providing healthcare to Service personnel serving in the UK, abroad, those at sea, and in some circumstances family dependants of Service personnel and entitled civilians.

It also provides some aspects of healthcare to other countries’ personnel overseas in both permanent military bases and in areas of conflict.

The range of services provided by DMS include primary healthcare, pre-hospital emergency care, dental care, hospital care, rehabilitation, occupational medicine, community mental healthcare and specialist medical care. It also provides healthcare in a range of facilities, including medical and dental centres, regional rehabilitation units, field hospitals, and in Ministry of Defence Hospital Units (MDHU) alongside the NHS. It also provides a defence aeromedical evacuation service.

The Surgeon General (SG) is the three star professional head of the DMS (OF-8, Vice Admiral) and the Process Owner for end to end defence healthcare and medical operational capability. The SG is accountable to the Defence Board, reporting routinely through the Defence Operating Board and Service Personnel Board, both of which the SG attends as required.

What is the SG is responsible for?

SG responsibilities include:

  • Defining the boundaries and processes, organisational structures and composition of forces, and the standards and quality needed, to deliver advice on health policy, healthcare and medical operational capability in consultation with top level budget holders.
  • Setting the overall direction on all clinical matters relating to the practice of medicine within the military.
  • Setting and auditing the professional performance of all medical personnel.
  • Setting clinical and medical policies and standards, and auditing compliance by military organisations across defence.
  • Developing the science of military medicine to develop approaches and treatments that will best counter threats to the health and wellbeing of Service personnel.
  • Providing deployable medical operational capability.
  • Building and maintaining the medical infrastructure and cadre or people.
  • Delivering a comprehensive healthcare system that provides the appropriate timely healthcare to Service (and other entitled) personnel.
  • Ensuring coherence of health plans between Defence and the NHS.
  • Chairing the Defence Medical Service Board, the forum for providing strategic direction and guidance to the DMS.


Doing Business with Defence Handbook. Edition 24 (2018).


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