As the next steps on the NHS Five Year Forward View announced 17,500 forces veterans and service personnel will benefit from £9million investment in new and improved NHS mental health services, NHS England’s Director of Health & Justice, Armed Forces and Sexual Assault Services Commissioning looks at what it will bring:
Improved NHS mental health services for veterans were launched at the weekend.
So it was timely that the King’s Centre for Military Health Research at King’s College recently hosted its second conference on this subject , entitled ‘Veterans’ Mental Health – The Wider Perspective’.
I joined a debate that looked at whether or not mental health care for veterans should be part of mainstream mental health services. I debated in favour of this, presenting my case in front of over 200 guests from across the third sector, military, NHS and academic world, while the opposing this view was provided by Sue Freeth, Chief Executive of Combat Stress.
This format was a first for the event and proved fruitful in the spirit of open conversation and the range of views generated from the wider room.
I challenged people to think about veterans as they would any patient, all of whom should rightly have access to high quality mental health care regardless of which service they access.
This does not by any length mean ignoring their armed forces’ experiences and dismissing their time in combat. It does, however, mean that across the NHS, veterans should have a positive patient experience and access to consistent support and treatment that is in line with the health commitments of the Armed Forces Covenant.
The intention of the recently commissioned service, known as the NHS transition, intervention and liaison veterans’ mental health service, is that it acts as a front door to a range of mental health services across the NHS depending on the needs of the patient.
Varying levels of treatment and support can be provided, from recognising the early signs of mental health problems and providing access to early interventions, to providing therapeutic treatment for complex mental health difficulties and psychological trauma.
In order for this to work, the service is integrated with other mental health services across the NHS to ensure veterans receive treatment in a manner and setting that is considerate of the complexity and severity of their condition. Furthermore, it will work closely with the wider NHS, statutory bodies, local authorities and the third sector to ensure holistic support is in place to help veterans enjoy a full life and achieve positive outcomes relating to not only mental health, but also employment, reduction in alcohol consumption, improved housing and social support.
Sitting as part of mainstream mental health services, it is essential that the appropriate quality standards and specialist training are in place within the service to drive up levels of clinical care for this patient cohort. With the proportion of veterans experiencing mental health difficulties expected to come forward and seek help sooner, our ability to effectively reach out to them and provide timely care that is considerate of their needs and that of their families is essential.
We can always do more and there is always room to improve; and what better way to do this than through the commitments of The Five Year Forward View for Mental Health.
I feel privileged to be involved in its delivery and even more delighted that it recognises the importance of veterans’ mental health as a core element of mainstream mental health service provision. A major driver for this will be working in partnership with local public, private and voluntary sector organisations, acknowledging the contributions of each to improving mental health wellbeing.
As part of this, however, we must also widen our scope, acknowledging that veterans may need a broader range of services than those typically considered; whether this is from Marie Curie, the Terrence Higgins Trust or The British Heart Foundation.
To me, this was a momentous day, which was signified by the presence of Prince Harry, who took the opportunity to address the common misconception that many veterans have PTSD, whereas actual rates are around 4% to 5%, which is broadly equivalent to the incidence among civilians.
More common issues include other mental health difficulties, such as anxiety, depression and problems related to alcohol. This is reflected in the offering of the NHS transition, intervention and liaison veterans’ mental health service, which provides an enhanced range of tailored treatment, care and support options to ensure those who have served receive timely and consistent care.
I truly hope this front door to a range of NHS mental health services will encourage those who need help to seek it and in doing so continue to break down the associated stigma.
We are in a strong position to make advancements in this area and I encourage all to take responsibility in challenging those who care for patients to truly understand the needs of the individual. In doing so, we should consider whether a patient is a veteran and, if so, what can be done to make their experience of care better, their outcome a positive one and their family feel supported.
- For more information read the press release: Next steps on the NHS Five Year Forward View: 17,500 forces veterans and service personnel to benefit from £9m investment in new and improved NHS mental health services.