Phone line to help veterans with mental health problems

Defence secretary Liam Fox has pledged to provide armed forces veterans with access to a dedicated 24-hour support line for those struggling with physical or mental health needs.

The Government has also said that it will fund an extra 30 mental health nurses within mental health trusts specifically to support the health needs of veterans.

Fox revealed that a Government-appointed review of mental healthcare provision for armed forces personnel and veterans by former Royal Navy surgeon and Conservative MP Andrew Murrison has been completed and was being considered by No.10.

“We will be taking forward work on Andrew’s proposals,” he told delegates to the Conservative Party conference in October.

Murrison said mental healthcare was quickly identified by the Government as “the principal cause for concern” when it came to the healthcare support available to veterans: “Remedial action points were seen by [the health secretary] Andrew Lansley and Liam Fox over the summer and are now on the PM’s desk.

“We must be far more proactive in discovering and managing mental health problems among servicemen and veterans, a ‘stiff upper lip’ community that is reluctant to seek help. A new approach to service provision is needed that is palatable to veterans, from WWII octogenarians to teenagers fresh out of Helmand.”

In a separate development, the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Royal British Legion and veterans’ support group Combat Stress have launched guidance to support GPs in identifying and meeting the healthcare needs of veterans more effectively. This includes helping veterans to access the priority treatment to which they are entitled.

The guidance is looking at how GPs can best care for veterans’ physical and mental health in civilian life. It includes advice on medical records and accessing priority treatment, mental health needs, health behaviours, the provision of prostheses and hospital waiting lists.

An Ipsos-MORI poll carried out on behalf of the Royal British Legion last year found some GPs were reluctant to raise the subject of whether their patients were veterans and others expressed confusion about how best to navigate the health system on behalf of their veteran patients.

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