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Volume 451: debated on Monday 30 October 2006

8. What assessment he has made of the prevalence of mental illness among servicemen returning from combat duty in Iraq; and if he will make a statement. (97416)

The Ministry of Defence sponsored research by King’s college to gain further understanding of the extent of mental health problems by those who have served on Operation Telic. We welcome the study’s confirmation in May 2006 that the overwhelming majority of our servicemen and women are returning from operations in Iraq in good health and that there has been no significant difference between the mental health of regulars who deployed to Iraq and those who did not.

In response to the study’s findings that higher percentages of reservists who served on Telic 1 displayed symptoms of common mental health problems and post-traumatic stress disorder than reservists who did not deploy, we announced our intention to create an enhanced post-operational mental health care programme for recently demobilised reservists. That will be launched before the end of the year.

I pay tribute to those who have sacrificed their lives and their health in this conflict, includingthe 2,000 ex-servicemen—60 a month—who have succumbed to mental health problems following the conflict in Iraq. What is the Department’s long-term commitment to that group of causalities, bearing it in mind that the conditions are often long-term and manifest themselves some time after the event?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, there is excellent care for those on operations and those coming back from operations. Excellent care is provided by Combat Stress and the Priory Group, as well. As I have just mentioned, for post-operational purposes, for reservists, we are looking at providing additional mental health care. We are also looking at the possibility of pilots, working with the NHS and some charities, for other veterans who may need further support. For instance, that may mean some sort of involvement from military mental health care professionals.

May I commend to the Minister the work of Hollybush house in my constituency, which provides specialist mental health services, residentially and in the community, as part of the Combat Stress network? Its already limited resources are being stretched by increased referrals from veterans recently back from Iraq and it also has concerns about support for reservists who have been recently deployed. Can I expect the Minister to announce, as part of his strategy, increased funding for Combat Stress by the end of year?

I know that my hon. Friend takes a great interest in this matter. She mentioned Hollybush house and Combat Stress in her constituency. We work closely with them. As I said, in terms of the overall strategy, it is important to consider support when on operations and when coming back from operations. It is also important to look again at how we can improve post-operational support. We are looking at a particular scheme to give that support to reservists. We will continue to look at ways in which we can improve and get more assistance to those who need it.

The Minister referred to a statement made by his predecessor in May, which said that a Minister was going to come to the Dispatch Box a few months later to clarify the details of the announcement. Five months later, the Minister has simply repeated chunks of May’s statement, so it appears that the Department has made little or no progress. When will our reservists, some of whom have significant mental heath issues, as was acknowledged in May’s statement, finally get to hear about the treatment package to which they will be entitled? When will the Department pull its finger out and make that announcement?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman was listening to my earlier answers. I make it clear again that it is important that we get this right and that we provide the best possible service. We intend to make an announcement on the issue before the end of the year.