From 1 April 2013, NHS England took up its full duties to ensure that the NHS delivers better outcomes for patients within its available resources and upholds, and promotes the NHS Constitution. As a single national organisation, NHS England is responsible for ensuring that services are commissioned in ways that support consistency not centralisation; consistency in ensuring high standards of quality across the country. NHS England works through its national, regional and area teams to discharge these responsibilities.
Section 15 of the Health and Social Care Act 2012, gives the Secretary of State the power to require NHS England to commission certain services instead of clinical commissioning groups (CCGs). These include services or facilities for members of the Armed Forces or their families.
These regulations define the scope of responsibility as being for any serving member of the Armed Forces stationed in England and any family dependents who are registered with a Ministry of Defence, Defence Medical Services (DMS) Medical Centre. In addition, reservists who require NHS health services while mobilised will be the commissioning responsibility of NHS England. Those stationed overseas who return to England to receive health services is the responsibility of the NHS in England and will depend on what service is needed and where.
NHS England is responsible for ensuring that services are commissioned to support consistently high standards of quality across the country, promote the NHS Constitution, deliver the requirements of the Secretary of State’s Mandate with NHS England and are in line with the commitments made by the Government under the Armed Forces Covenant.
NHS England’s responsibilities are to commission directly:
- all secondary and community health services for members of the Armed Forces, mobilised Reservists and their families if registered with DMS Medical Centres in England;
- specialised services, including specialist limb prosthesis and rehabilitation services for veterans.
CCGs responsibilities are to commission:
- all secondary and community services required by Armed Forces’ families where registered with NHS GP Practices, and services for veterans and reservists when not mobilised. The bespoke services for veterans, such as veterans‟ mental health services, will be commissioned by CCGs either individually or collectively.
- emergency care services on a geographical basis which can be accessed by anyone present in their defined geographical boundary e.g. accident and emergency services, emergency ambulance services and other emergency health services. Serving members of the Armed Forces and their families (where registered with DMS Medical Centres) will have full access to these services.
- health services for these groups stationed overseas who return to England to receive NHS care.
Health needs of the Armed Forces
Military personnel put themselves in harm’s way in the service of their country. They risk injury or death in the course of their duty and successive governments have recognised the debt society owes to its Armed Forces, their families and veterans.
Society’s obligations are set out in the Armed Forces Covenant, a framework for the duty of care Britain owes its Armed Forces. In terms of healthcare, the key principle is that they experience no disadvantage in accessing timely, comprehensive and effective healthcare and that they receive bespoke services for their particular needs or combat-related conditions including, for instance, specialist limb prostheses and rehabilitation.
Members of the Armed Forces are typically younger and fitter than the general population. As such, there is relatively low prevalence of long-term conditions, some earlier identified health needs and higher incidence of musculo-skeletal injury. Combat-related injuries aside, Armed Forces healthcare needs can usually be met by standard NHS services. Similarly, the families and dependants of serving Armed Forces members have health needs typical of their age and gender. Maternity services and children’s health services in particular must be planned and commissioned with the needs of military families in mind where they are present in large numbers in a community.
NHS England’s role and responsibilities
NHS England’s responsibility to the Armed Forces serving personnel is set out in the Mandate and this past year has seen new ways of working for the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the NHS; with both organisations successfully working through these new arrangements for healthcare.
NHS England has a dedicated team of Armed Forces healthcare commissioners. For the first time, a single, national organisation is commissioning the majority of services required by the Armed Forces community, which includes mobilised reservists and some families. This duty is carried out by NHS England’s National Support Centre and its three lead area teams: North Yorkshire and Humber (North); Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire (Midlands and the East); and Bath, Gloucestershire, Swindon and Wiltshire (South, including London).
As well as these teams, NHS England has been working with other partners, including a full range of service supporting charities and the Department of Health (DH) and Local Government Association (LGA), to improve the services available to veterans and raising awareness of veteran’s health and mental health issues within ex-service communities. This is all part of helping to connect other parts of the health system for this population, notably with CCGs, local authorities, providers and health and wellbeing boards.
Further information can be accessed on the NHS website.
Assurance that services are being appropriately commissioned
For both area teams and CCGs, assurance is a major factor when approaching the NHS’s responsibility for the Armed Forces community. It has been agreed by the three lead area teams that they will include assurance questions in all area teams’ quarterly reviews.
Providers role across the wider health economy in relation to the Armed Forces
Whilst this community group is relatively small compared to larger populations it is important to note the following:
- Most secondary acute and mental health care for serving personnel is provided by the NHS
- Ministry of Defence GPs now use e-referral (previously Choose & Book) to refer into NHS services
- There are complex and variable commissioning relationships for serving, families, veterans and reservists
- To ensure accurate patient data transfer and speedy invoicing and payment, data departments will need to be aware of recent changes and useful activity codes
- As stated in the Armed Forces Covenant, Armed Forces personnel must suffer no disadvantage due to their Service
- Veterans have distinct health needs and should receive priority treatment where it relates to a condition which results from their service in the Armed Forces and is subject to the clinical need of others (page 10, Healthcare – Armed Forces Covenant).