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GPs offered help to support veterans

RCGP issues guidance to GPs on veterans’ healthcare

Louise Prime

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Nearly half (48%) of 500 GPs surveyed across England and Wales said they did not know very much about priority treatment for veterans and 33% admitted to knowing nothing at all; and 59% of veterans referred to secondary care by their GP said they were not receiving the priority non-emergency care to which they were entitled.

Most veterans questioned in the Ipsos/MORI survey last year said their GP had not asked whether they were a veteran – and that they had not volunteered this information. 

As a result the RCGP has worked with The Royal British Legion and Combat Stress to produce new guidance to help GPs to identify and meet the healthcare needs of their patients who have left the regular or reserve Army, Royal Navy or Royal Air Force, or who worked in the Merchant Navy facilitating military operations.

The guidance advises GPs on how to identify Services veterans on their list, and how best to care for veterans’ physical and mental health after they have left the Forces and rejoined civilian life. It includes advice on medical records and accessing the priority treatment to which all veterans are entitled for Service-related conditions, as well as dedicated sections on mental health needs, health behaviours, the provision of prostheses and hospital waiting lists.

The booklet clearly explains War Pensioners’ newly extended entitlement to priority treatment in the NHS, which means that all veterans (whether or not their receive a war pension) who have health problems that may be related to their military Service, should be given priority non-emergency treatment on the NHS. When GPs refer veterans for further care, they should include a written statement confirming that the patient is a veteran and whether or not their health problem could be related to their military service.

RCGP chairman Professor Steve Field said: “A large number of our patients in general practice are veterans or families of veterans from wars gone by or the recent or current conflicts in Iraq, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan.

“Once [Defence Service personnel] have left the Armed Forces they face many more problems and life becomes more difficult.

“This guidance is a great step forward in helping mainstream GPs identify and support the health needs of our veterans so that we can improve access and quality of the care and services that the NHS provides to them - it’s the least they should expect.”

Peter Poole from Combat Stress, said: “On average, the Veterans who seek help from Combat Stress come to us 14 years after Service discharge. Too often this delay can lead to marriage break-up, unemployment, social isolation, and substance misuse – in short, a total unravelling of a normal life. 

“Increasing awareness of Service-related mental ill health among front-line NHS staff – and directing Veterans to appropriate services … can only serve to improve their uptake of treatment, prospect of recovery and, ultimately, quality of life.”

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