NHS England is set to further improve mental health care for military veterans after a nationwide campaign to give veterans themselves a say in how services are delivered.
Feedback has highlighted the need to improve awareness of where veterans should go for help, raise the profile of NHS veterans’ mental health services and further increase understanding amongst health professionals of the unique issues faced by those from an armed forces background. It was also felt that more should be done to support a smoother transition from armed forces healthcare to the NHS to help ensure the right pathways of support are in place for veterans with mental health difficulties and the wider health needs of families are considered.
Furthermore, people’s responses pointed to a need for services that support the recognition and treatment of early warning signs of mental health illness and diagnosis, as well as trauma, alcohol and substance misuse.
NHS England has also run pilots to test enhanced models of care for mental health services for veterans which have helped shape the new services. These pilots ran from November 2015 to 31 March 2016 and were provided by the North Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust and the Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust and involved a variety of charity partners.
Neil Davies is an armed forces veteran who left school at 14 before joining the Army where he served until 1969. He said: “The military offered an opportunity, a second chance to make something of yourself but while military training prepares young men to obey orders and endure harsh conditions in combat zones, what it doesn’t equip them for is dealing with the memories of those traumas.
“Leaving the military is almost like falling overboard an ocean-going ship. I felt lost and all-at-sea, with no one to talk to about my experiences. Consequently I locked those memories away, where they festered over the years. I suffered from flashbacks, insomnia and anger. Even my children remarked that I was a kettle on the verge of boiling over.
“Then, a few years ago I asked my Doctor in Camden for drugs to help me sleep and she started talking to me about my personal life and quickly diagnosed possible Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and arranged an appointment at the Military Veterans PTSD clinic in St Pancras Hospital.
“Going to the PTSD Veterans clinics felt like the hardest thing I have ever done, I was petrified – worried that they would discover I was a nutter. But it was one of the best things I have done for myself. The counselling and just the chance to talk openly about the various traumas I suffered during military service unlocked painful buried memories.
“I would encourage anyone who has locked away painful memories to tackle their problems – just like they would a military mission.”
NHS England is now acting on the issues raised by implementing a series of new measures aimed at ensuring military veterans get the right care and treatment in a timely manner, which will be reflected in future commissioning arrangements. To progress this in a timely manner, NHS England is working with the Ministry of Defence and veteran charities to develop the new services. Procurement is expected to start in September 2016 with provider contracts starting in April 2017. However, additional services will also be developed in this financial year to further improve mental health services for veterans.
Dr. Jonathan Leach, Chair of NHS England’s Armed Forces and their Families Clinical Reference Group, said: “There is no doubt that NHS staff work as hard as they can to provide the best quality of care for everyone, including military veterans. However our engagement campaign has provided invaluable feedback from veterans themselves that has shown how we can improve and tailor our services better. This means starting from when armed forces personnel are nearing the end of their service. It is at this point we need to identify what onward support they will require from the NHS so the right care and treatment is in place ready for them.
“I would like to thank everyone who has taken part in our survey and we will now focus on implementing our plans to ensure armed forces veterans receive the highest possible standard of mental health care. ”