NHS England to improve mental health care for armed forces veterans

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. ”

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  1. J.L.Tooze says:

    Hi Sysop,
    I completed your q’aire to the best of my ability, yet feel that there some issues unadressed.
    I have renewed my link, during the summer last year, with my army regiment as some sort of chance to “catch up” & it is to some extent heartening. But, there are a lot of other ex service personel, which included all my male in laws and vs people I have met over the years who are definitely scarred emotionally – with consequences, major ones for their families & people they fraternise with. Still more work needed!

  2. John Iles says:

    I am an 85 yr old Suez canal veteran who served in the RAF at 109 MU Abyad for two and a half years, between 1951 and 1954 It was like being a POW. Terrible conditions. When I finally came home my sister realised I kept dropping small things, I said they suddenly seemed to get much heaver. My GP asked me ‘Have you been in any stressful situations recently’? What an understatement!
    Most people did not know we were there, I think it was all swept under the carpet. Hundreds died, some committed suicide. What a waste.

    • Richard Corso says:

      I totally agree with you especially when you see what other countries have done for their veterans. I would like to thank you for service to this country and wish you good health and happiness.

  3. Smudge. (Gerald Smith) says:

    This is something that should have been done before I left the Army. Although I wasn’t hurt in any fighting, I lost one of my children in Cyprus because of a stupid local driver whose car was overloaded. Then several years later I lost my wife suddenly. I came out of the Army and thanks to my second wife who has helped me tremendously I am fully recovered and well despite other problems healthwise. So well done the NHS.

  4. Si says:

    Dear Pete and all that will be reading this, I am a veteran and am sure the majority of you are also? Being medically discharged due to physical and mental health difficulties from service after pledging to serve for 22, is a difficult thing to deal with. The Armed Forces Charities are a very important resource to support veterans and so is the NHS. However I personally feel that neither can provide true cohesion to the sector and a separate service such as the one I am in the process of establishing, will see huge changes in how the veteran support sector and statutory authorities work together. It is a support service with veterans at its heart employing those veterans that are WIS ( Wounded injured and Sick) to engage with veterans and the civilian communities. Opening up direct and or immediate support. Enabling cross working of all organisations that engage. Many believe the NHS can take the lead in this sector but their true role is to provide medical and healthcare support.

  5. Pete says:

    To be applauded! But I thought there had already been some consultations involving veterans already that shaped existing provision? It would be good to know that veterans themselves have been involved rather than military charities run by civilians. How refreshingly different that would be.

    • Kassander says:

      I fully agree with you, Pete.
      These men and women were thought the best of the best to protect us and our country, and have knowledge and understanding in many areas that civilians cannot have.
      Let them now bring those skills and that unique knowledge to inform the development of pertinent services.
      The same goes for millions of other ordinary patients and members of the public who are ‘represented’ by voluntary and charitable groups who have no concept of our wants and needs, and certainly don’t seek our approval for the things they say ”on our behalf”.
      We can do that, gizza ‘job’.