Comparing Defence Healthcare Engagement & Humanitarian Assistance

Research Paper Title

Comparison Between Defence Healthcare Engagement and Humanitarian Assistance.


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.


Hall, T.F., Horne, S. & Ross, D. (2020) Comparison Between Defence Healthcare Engagement and Humanitarian Assistance. BMJ Military Health. doi: 10.1136/bmjmilitary-2020-001437. Online ahead of print.


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