Session 2007-08 18 February 2008
Publication of Report
SOLDIERS GET WORLD-CLASS MEDICAL CARE BUT SERVICE FAMILIES AND VETERANS NEED MORE HELP: DEFENCE COMMITTEE REPORT
The House of Commons Defence Committee today concludes that the clinical care for Servicemen and women injured on operations is “world-class”, but the Government needs to do more to look after Service families and veterans, especially in terms of mental health provision. Support has to go beyond the period of service in the Armed Forces, and should form part of the compact between the Services and society, says the Committee in its report published today (Seventh Report of Session 2007-08, Medical care for the Armed Forces, HC 327).
The Committee visited the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine in Birmingham in June 2007, and considers that excellent clinical care is being provided to injured Service personnel there. Welfare provision was not initially of the same standard but has improved over the last 18 months. The MoD is closely involved in the Birmingham New Hospitals project, which will create modern, state-of-the-art facilities for defence medicine, and the Committee urges the MoD to make welfare provision an integral part of its plans for Birmingham.
The treatment of mental health problems is mixed. The Committee considers that the provision for serving personnel is “adequate” but has room for improvement. However, many problems only come to light several years after people have left the Armed Forces, and there is currently no proper system for tracking ex-Servicemen and women and making support available to them when necessary. The MoD works with the charity Combat Stress to provide respite care, but more needs to be done.
The Government announced in November 2007 that it was expanding priority access to healthcare for veterans. The Committee welcomes this, but is concerned that the NHS has no systematic way of identifying veterans and therefore deciding who is eligible. A more robust tracking system would allow those who have served their country to receive the benefits to which they are entitled. This is part of what should be ‘wrap-around’ care for veterans. The Government owes them a duty of care not just while they are serving in the Armed Forces but afterwards as well.
Commenting on the report, Committee Chairman Rt Hon James Arbuthnot MP said:
“There is no doubt that Armed Forces medical personnel do a brilliant job in treating and rehabilitating wounded Servicemen and women, and we pay tribute to them, and to the welfare organisations and charities which work with them. Patients are recovering from injuries which, even ten years ago, would have been incapacitating or fatal, and many are making exceptional recoveries and returning to military duties. We visited Birmingham and MoD Hospital Units across the country, as well as the rehabilitation unit at Headley Court, and saw dedicated professionals doing excellent work.”
“But the MoD needs to do more to look after families and veterans. We welcome the moves the Government has made to extend priority access to healthcare for veterans, but too much is being left to good intentions and good luck. Unless the NHS can identify those who are entitled, priority access can be an empty promise. There also needs to be better recognition of the challenges Service families face.”
“There also has to be better long-term mental healthcare for veterans. People who have served their country often develop psychological problems many years later, and there have to be more effective ways of tracking, monitoring and treating them properly. We need to ensure that veterans are handled by those who understand their experiences and the challenges they face.”
NOTE FOR EDITORS:
The Committee was nominated on 13 July 2005. The Defence Committee is appointed by the House of Commons to examine the expenditure, administration, and policy of the Ministry of Defence and its associated public bodies.
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