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Last Updated: Friday, 23 November 2007, 12:50 GMT
Fast-track treatment for veterans
armed soldier
Afghanistan and Iraq veterans to get mental health support
Injured soldiers are to be given fast-track treatment on the NHS when they return home from action, the government has announced.

Six dedicated mental health units will also be set up across the UK to help soldiers suffering post-traumatic stress disorder.

The units will be in Staffordshire, London, Cardiff, Newcastle, Scotland and St Austell in Cornwall.

The plan was unveiled by the Department of Health and the Ministry of Defence.

Priority NHS treatment specifically for injuries linked to military service is already given to the 170,000 war pensioners in the UK.

Under the new rules, this will be extended to all 4.8m men and women who were once in the forces.

'Duty of care'

Access to care will be based on level of need but the government said "priority treatment could still be significant for a small number of veterans".

The community health pilots will be staffed by qualified mental health care professionals with an understanding of the military ethos and expertise in veterans' mental health
Derek Twigg, Defence Minister

Health Secretary Alan Johnson said the government wanted to create "an expert service capable of understanding and responding to the particular problems" that veterans can suffer.

"Our servicemen and women do an outstanding job," Mr Johnson said.

"We owe them a debt of gratitude and a duty of care, particularly those who have developed health problems as a result of their military service."

Each of the six mental health units will have a trained veterans' therapist to treat psychological injuries sustained in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Approximately 7% of all troops deployed to these battlefields have been diagnosed with mental health disorders.

Veterans will be able to go to the units directly or be referred by their GP, ex-service organisation, the Veterans' Welfare Service or Social Services.

If the pilot is a success, it will be expanded nationwide.

Depression

Defence Minister Derek Twigg said staff at the mental health units would understand "the military ethos" and be able to give veterans the "best standard of care".

There are some people who have problems such as depression, anxiety, substance misuse problems, interpersonal difficulties
Mary Robertson
Consultant psychologist

The mental health unit in Stafford is already open with a therapist travelling throughout Staffordshire and Shropshire to visit veterans. The location for the Scotland pilot is still to be confirmed.

The London unit will be run by Camden and Islington Mental Health and Social Care Trust whose Traumatic Stress Clinic has provided expert treatment to survivors of the 7 July bombings.

Consultant psychologist Mary Robertson, who leads the unit, said: "There are some people who have problems such as depression, anxiety, substance misuse problems, interpersonal difficulties and PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] as a result of experiences during their service.

"The NHS needs to respond better to this."

The move to prioritise military personnel comes after soldiers and their families complained they were having trouble accessing quality care upon returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Seven of the eight military hospitals around the UK have closed since a Conservative government review in the early 1990s and the last in Haslar, Hampshire, will shut in 2009.

Calls for more military hospitals to be created were rejected by this government, which argued that "top-quality treatment" was available within the NHS.

But it has announced the creation of dedicated military wards in Birmingham that offer soldiers a chance to recuperate alongside colleagues.

SEE ALSO
Ministers hit back in troops row
23 Nov 07 |  UK Politics

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