Health Education England, with support from NHS England, has just launched an e-learning programme to help increase understanding of the armed forces population and facilitate improved care and treatment. The programme covers current serving personnel, veterans and their families. Dr Jonathan Leach, an army veteran and GP, explains its importance:
The Armed Forces community consists of current members of the Royal Navy, the Royal Marines, the Army and Royal Air Force, Reservists, veterans and the families of current serving personnel and veterans.
In many cases their health needs are no different from other members of society, but in others they are very different.
For example, current serving personnel, who will be registered with a military GP practice, tend to be younger, have a high prevalence of musculoskeletal problems, particularly involving their back, knees and lower limbs plus some have mental health difficulties.
There are also differences in that service personnel are not able to self-certify themselves unwell, in comparison with civilian counterparts, who can self-certify themselves off sick for the first seven days.
There is also an explicit requirement for the Defence Medical Services, who provide military primary healthcare, to specifically consider any health issues the patient may have and their ability to undertake their military role – or their occupational health.
Additionally the families of service personnel may feel disconnected from the local population and can be disadvantaged as a consequence of the need to frequently move house. This often means having to arrange a new school for their children, register with a different NHS GP and dentist, and sometimes rearrange hospital appointments upon moving.
Military veterans can also sometimes have specific health needs as a consequence of their time in uniform, such as mental health problems, musculoskeletal difficulties or hearing loss.
Feedback from patients is that frequently NHS care works well and patients receive high quality care, but a constant theme is that NHS staff do not necessarily understand the differences between members of the Armed Forces community and civilian equivalents.
This includes some of the different referral pathways available, as well as appreciating the differences in healthcare delivery for uniformed patients including Reservists. Within this is an understanding of the Armed Forces Covenant, which guides the Government approach to a wide range of public services with the particular aim that members of the Armed Forces community should not be disadvantaged in comparison with their civilian counterparts.
In order to improve the knowledge, understanding and potential differences, Health Education England, with support from NHS England, has developed an e-learning programme for clinical staff.
Written by experts in their field who are either clinicians, or who have a detailed understanding of the issues, the e-learning packages are designed to address and highlight both the similarities and differences between members of the armed forces community and their civilian counterparts.
The free programme includes six sessions, which cover current serving personnel, the families of serving personnel and veterans.
It is accredited for continuing professional development and all health and social care staff who are likely to see members of the Armed Forces Community are encouraged to complete it.
Dr Leach served for 25 years in the Army including 17 years overseas.