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Service Veterans (Mental Health)

Volume 508: debated on Monday 29 March 2010

5. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of long-term mental health support for armed forces veterans. (324449)

Initial results from the six NHS mental health pilot schemes are encouraging, with evidence that veterans feel able to access and use the services with confidence. The evaluation of these pilots will be complete later this year, with a view to all NHS mental health services rolling out special provision for veterans during 2011-12. Additionally, the medical assessment programme at St. Thomas’ hospital in London continues to prove an important resource to veterans with mental health problems.

I thank the Minister for that reply. What assessment has the Minister made of the number of veterans in prison, the number of them homeless and the number that, sadly, commit suicide? What more can be done for those groups of people?

We have completed studies on those three groups. On homelessness, we conducted a study with York university on the figures in London that showed 4 per cent. homelessness among the veteran population. As for the prison population, we have just completed a review of our data along with those of the Ministry of Justice, which showed that the prison population of veterans is about 4 per cent. We are subjecting those findings to more scrutiny to find out exactly what more can be done in mainstream services in prisons to support veterans.

A year ago, the Minister was good enough to meet Piers Bishop of Resolution, which has done groundbreaking work on mental health issues among our armed forces. Does Resolution still have a part to play on this issue, to which I know the Minister has given a great deal of personal attention?

We are always looking to work not only with the NHS but with third sector providers. Two or three weeks ago, together with the Department of Health, I was pleased to sign a partnership agreement with Combat Stress, which is now going to embed its mental health professionals in NHS trusts to act as champions for the mental health of veterans. We will consider any proposals on their merits.

The mental health pilots to which the Minister referred—I have visited one of them—are most welcome, but even if they were rolled out in a definitive programme, it would still mean that the majority of cases of combat stress would be undiscovered and untreated. The Minister is probably not aware that the medical examinations people are given when they leave the armed forces have not been updated for many years and they certainly do not reflect the level of service-related mental illness generated since 2003. Why has he allowed this obvious missed opportunity to endure, and will he partially redeem himself by offering to support our proposal to screen veterans for service-related mental illness both at the point of discharge and at intervals thereafter?

I am sad that the hon. Gentleman does not pay more close attention to what I am doing in my portfolio. A few weeks ago, I announced a new initiative whereby the medical records of those discharged will be transferred more seamlessly to the NHS. We also now have an agreement with the NHS whereby older veterans can have the fact that they served in the armed forces flagged up on their GPs’ records. We continue to support the work and research of the defence study conducted at King’s College, which is about to produce a report that will show the true effects of service not just on those who are serving now but on those who served many years ago.