Page last updated at 09:38 GMT, Monday, 18 February 2008

Veterans 'need more mental care'

British soldier
Veterans should be tracked through the NHS, MPs have said

More must be done to help military service veterans with mental health problems, a Commons Defence Committee report has found.

The committee said the identification and treatment of veterans relies too much on luck and good intentions.

It backed the controversial move from military hospitals to the NHS, but said there was too little support for veterans once they left the services.

The goverment said measures were being taken to improve veterans' care.

'Robust tracking' needed.

Defence minister Derek Twigg told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that in the past there had not been treatment which was specifically for military personnel.

He said: "We've now announced the setting up of a pilot scheme around the country where our medical services will be working with the NHS to develop a veterans' psychiatric service, so the understanding for both the civilian NHS practitioners will improve."

He added that this would allow staff to "understand the cultural background of our veterans and therefore hopefully improve the overall treatment and care".

In its report the committee said it saw "no evidence" that care has suffered as a result of the decision to treat veterans in the NHS.

It said: "The principle behind the decision to move from stand-alone military hospitals to facilities which co-operate with the NHS was the right one, from a clinical, administrative and financial point of view."

In its endorsement, the committee picked out the Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham for particular praise.

The hospital has a military-managed ward and is where most of the casualties from Iraq and Afghanistan are taken.

If the NHS does not have a reliable way of identifying those who have been in the Armed Forces, then it already has one hand behind its back
Commons Defence Committee

But although the report described treatment of the injured as "world class," it also said more needed to be done to help soldiers with mental health problems.

The committee recommended a thorough way of "tracking" veterans through the NHS as some veterans develop mental health issues years after the events that caused them.

It said: "We are concerned that the identification and treatment of veterans with mental health needs relies as much on good intentions and good luck as on robust tracking and detailed understanding of their problems

"If the NHS does not have a reliable way of identifying those who have been in the Armed Forces, then it already has one hand behind its back when it comes to providing appropriate clinical care."

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