PULHHEEMS is a system of grading physical and mental fitness
, a system used by Britain's armed forces
to determine the suitability of its employees for posting. It is not a 'fitness test' as such, except in the sense that 'fitness' means 'suitability for purpose
'. For new recruits it is part of the intimidating first step into the armed forces, whilst for established servicepeople
it is a formality, an irritating one. It is worth noting that, although a PULHHEEMS is carried out on new recruits
, it is not itself an entrance examination
(the attributes of which depend on the unit conducting the examination).
Once a serviceperson has undergone a PULHHEEMS, he or she is given a 'PES', or 'PULHHEEMS Employment Status'; this PES value is used to determine whether the soldier is "employable in full combatant duties (in any area) in any part of the world" or if he or she is required to remain away from the combat area, or within a specific geographic limitation, or indeed whether he or she is unfit for all duties. A PES grade of P2 is excellent; that of P7 is very poor, and P8 is one step away from civilian life.
The PULHHEEMS examination can result in dire consequences for a soldier's immediate career prospects if his or her standards of fitness do not reach the required levels, whether as a consequence of injury, neglect, pregnancy or old age. Downgrading can reduce a serviceman's pay, prevent him from attending courses - which in turn can prevent the serviceman from being promoted - and ultimately a serious, permanent downgrade can result in discharge from the forces on medical grounds. People are generally healthier nowadays than they were; the stories from WW1 of short-sighted, malnourished children being turned away from recruiting stations no longer apply (indeed, malnourishment has been replaced in the UK by ... benenourishment? Egnourishment?).
PULHHEEMS is 'tri-service', which is to say that it is used by the British Army, the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force, although the RAF have a few quirks, as befits a new organisation. The RAF does not have a PES, it has a MES ('Medical Employment Status') instead, which encapsulates the serviceman's suitability for posting in the air, on the ground, and in different climates. Thus a fully-fit RAF serviceman will be graded 'A1G1Z1' rather than P2. Conversely the Royal Navy, which includes the Royal Marines, makes no distinction between postings at sea or on land.
The examination is carried out on recruits, and five-yearly after a serviceman or woman reaches the age of 30. After the age of 50, it is carried out once every two years. All Generals of any persuasion must be examined yearly. Furthermore, servicepeople under the age of 30 are required to undergo a PULHHEEMS in order to attend certain courses, whether occupational or promotional. A PULHHEEMS is also carried out prior to the serviceperson leaving the armed forces, in part because many former servicemen remain as reserves, and in part to prevent private legal action by former servicemen who feel that their health has been ruined by the armed forces.
PULHHEEMS itself is an abbreviation, for:
Lower limbs (or 'Locomotion', as this includes the back)
Eyesight left (corrected / uncorrected)
Eyesight right (corrected / uncorrected)
These attributes receive a score from 1 to 8, 1 being excellent and 8 being unfit for service. Although in theory all attributes can be scored from 1 to 8, in practice only eyesight and hearing can be 'perfect'. There is provision for grading a serviceperson's physical measurements P1, but the examination required would be impossible within the constraints of the PULHHEEMS system. The denial of physical perfection is perhaps a legacy of the British Army's Puritan, Cromwellian past.
The 'Mental' and 'Stability' measurements are not exhaustive. The former is not a test of intelligence, merely of the ability to form coherent thought processes. The latter is a measurement of the serviceman's stress level and is somewhat controversial, as it is generally accepted that long-term, low-level stress can have as detrimental an effect as short-term trauma. Stress is a great problem for the armed forces; it leaves no visible scars, it is no longer ignored as 'shellshock' or 'malingering', and of course military service can be exceptionally stressful. Although much more attention is paid to stress than it was, a distressingly high proportion of Britain's homeless are former servicemen. Of course, many of these are no doubt homeless for reasons unconnected with stress, and the military environment erodes one's ability to arrange one's own affairs, but nonetheless it is an ongoing concern.
On a historical level, the PULHHEEMS system dates from WW2, although before 1983 it was simply 'PULHEEMS' with one 'H'. It replaced an earlier, simpler system which dated from before WW1, in which soldiers were graded from A1 to D3 in four bands of three ratings. The PULHHEEMS system, or variations of it, is currently used by several members of the British Commonwealth, including Singapore, Canada (who introduced it in 1943, and claim to have devised the system), Australia and New Zealand; the USA uses a system called 'PULHES'. In civilian life there is a similar system called PULSES which is used to grade levels of disability; it differs from the PULHHEEMS in examining the digestive system as well, something which the PULHHEEMS does not.
I do this for a living - however, to comply with the Official Secrets Act I have only made use of information available from public sources, including the following. Of particularly interest was a description of the WW1 'A1...D3' system:
Secondly, the official MOD page, which does not necessarilly reflect current reality:
A detailed and helpful answer put before the Welsh assembly: