GPs and primary care teams are being encouraged to enlist in a scheme designed to improve care for thousands of armed forces veterans and their families.
NHS England has sent GP practices a comprehensive package of resources covering how to identify veterans and make sure their service is recognised by hospitals and other services, as well as how to access mental and physical health care tailored to their needs.
GPs and their teams can sign up to the Veteran Aware Accreditation scheme – a programme through which they become a “veteran-friendly” practice.
More than 150 GP practices in the West Midlands are now signed up and accredited to the scheme, which is backed by NHS England and the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP), and hundreds more practices from across the country have expressed an interest in signing up over the next year.
The NHS Long Term Plan, published in January, mentioned a desire to deliver a “National Heroes Service” for veterans, focusing on improving NHS England’s mental health services for former armed forces members.
The Veteran Aware Accreditation scheme is designed to help achieve this aim by having GPs play a leading role in the expansion of new and current services to help armed services personnel transition back into civilian life.
NHS England said it wanted every practice across England to join the scheme over the next five years.
The scheme enables practices to qualify to become an accredited GP practice if they meet criteria including:
- have a lead for veteran’s issues within the surgery
- identity and flag veterans on their computer system
- undertake dedicated training and attend armed forces healthcare meetings
- increase understanding of the health needs of veterans amongst both clinical and administrative staff.
As well as improving the care offered by GPs, NHS England is also expanding the Veterans’ Mental Health Transition, Intervention and Liaison Service (TILS), which launched in April 2017.
TILS is a dedicated community-based service designed to recognise the early signs of mental health difficulties. It also includes help with alcohol and drug misuse, along with social support, such as advice on employment, housing, relationships and finance.
Under the TILS expansion, serving personnel approaching discharge can now receive dedicated care and treatment for mental health difficulties before they leave the armed forces, with this continuing, where needed, as they transition to civilian life and beyond.
Dr Jonathan Leach, NHS England medical director for armed forces and veterans’ health, said: “The NHS is committed to providing our veterans with the specialist care that they need, including high quality mental health support.
“GPs play a key part in helping us to support veterans adapt to civilian life, and it is therefore vital that they understand their particular health needs in order to ensure that they get the right treatment and care.”
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, RCGP chair, said: “Our patients who are veterans often have complex physical and mental health requirements, and their families may also need support with their own health.
“I’m delighted to see so many GP practices already signing up to become ‘veteran friendly’, and making sure that those needs are properly flagged, considered, and accommodated as veterans readjust to and manage ongoing civilian life.”