The NHS provides 12 mental health services across England specifically for veterans. They enable specialist staff to care for veterans with mental health needs, direct them to the most appropriate service and give them effective treatment.

With the contracting round for most of these services due in 2016/17, this provided a significant opportunity to ask people about their views and experiences of these services and to explore the reasons why some people have not sought or received support and treatment.

On 25 January 2016, NHS England launched an engagement, supported by a questionnaire, to find out people’s views of NHS veterans’ mental health services.  This questionnaire was live until 31 March 2016, following which responses were analysed to inform an engagement report.

See here for a copy of the engagement report and to find out what people said. The findings are helping to shape improvements to current NHS veterans’ mental health services and inform future services that will be in place from April 2017.

Pre-engagement findings – themes

NHS England has undertaken a number of local conversations with a wide range of stakeholder groups between April-May 2014 to understand the service user better. What has come out of this process has been a set of themes which highlight areas across serving, veteran and families.

Our stakeholder engagement exercises have told us that the issues that most affect the Armed Forces community are:

  • the impact on waiting lists for those on regular enforced moves which requires that their position is maintained on lists as they move;
  • the lack of identification of veterans in the health system, most of whom are under 30 years of age;
  • the variation in commissioning policies across England – which has now been resolved as 37 interim commissioning policies are now in place to ensure consistency for the population we directly commission for;
  • an appropriate handover of care between referrers, multiple providers and commissioner, especially on transition out of the Armed Forces via the Ministry of Defence’s Personnel Recovery Units;
  • that there may be a minority of veterans who need complex multi-disciplinary support and that the Service charities can be very helpful – The Confederation of Service Charities.

Should you require further information or get involved, we would encourage local engagement with the Armed Forces Networks in your local area to connect with local charities, service users and the wider NHS. Please contact your Lead Area Teams across NHS England.

One message – “Tell them you’ve served” (2014)

Currently in development with colleagues from across the NHS, MoD, DH and Service charities, this is a core message to encourage greater identification of veterans. “Tell them you’ve served” will encourage veterans and personnel newly out of Service to present in primary, secondary or mental health providers to state their veteran status*. This will allow greater awareness and identification of veterans, which in turn will allow more specific access to mental health and health support, signposting to wider support services and allow those delivering care to be aware of the context of their Service in a considerate manner. This process will take a while to become established but a single message coming from all partners will provide a clear direction for practitioners, professionals and embed greater commitment to the Armed Forces Covenant.

* A veteran is anyone that has had one day’s service.

Armed forces participation framework

The framework for patient and public participation in Armed forces participation framework describes how NHS England involves patients and the public in the commissioning of these services.