The Ministry of Defence has a wide range of measures in place to monitor and manage the mental health of serving personnel, and has been exploring with the NHS to ensure ex-service personnel get the care they require. The current strategic defence and security review will include consideration of possible enhancements to medical care, including improved mental health care. As I said in answer to an earlier question, the Prime Minister has asked my hon. Friend the Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison) to conduct an independent study of the provision of support and services to the armed forces and ex-service personnel and to make recommendations for improvement, particularly in the area of mental health.
I thank the Minister for that response. Given that he implied on the BBC’s “File on 4” in June that he does not believe people should be screened for mental health problems, will he give an assurance that the Government are still committed to a compulsory mental health check for people on discharge from the services?
If I might say so, the hon. Gentleman misquotes what I said on “File on 4”. We take mental health very seriously; for instance, as I said in answer to an earlier question, we are looking into post-traumatic stress disorder and, indeed, I will visit the King’s Centre for Military Health Research next month to discuss that matter with Professor Wessely. It is very important that we take mental health seriously, and we are looking at how we can identify mental health problems, but I am not a clinician—I am not aware whether the hon. Gentleman is—so I cannot do other than take the advice of mental health professionals who say it is very difficult to screen people correctly and accurately for mental health problems until they present themselves with those problems.
May I ask the Minister to continue to recognise the wider impact of combat stress, particularly on Army families? As my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr Gray) said, and as we discussed when I went to the launch of a new charity in Tidworth, combat stress has a huge impact on the wives, children and husbands of serving armed forces members. Please will the Minister also confirm that other measures, such as our educational premium for Army children and scholarships for the children of the fallen, will survive the spending review, as they are critical to bolstering the military covenant?
My hon. Friend has put her finger on exactly the right spot: we are looking at the military covenant and how we may enhance the relationship between the Government and people of this country and the armed forces and the work they do. We are looking very closely at some of the issues my hon. Friend mentioned. As she will know, one or two of them are covered in the coalition agreement for government document and I think it highly unlikely that any Minister would dare renege on that programme for Government.
First, may I say that I agree totally with the Minister’s opposition to screening for mental health? He is right on that. Contrary to the rhetoric before the last general election, as a member of the last Labour Government I was pleased to be part of an Administration who delivered the seven mental health pilots and the partnership agreement between Combat Stress and the Ministry of Defence and who funded the research at the King’s Centre for Military Health Research. Can the Minister give an assurance that those mental health pilots will be rolled out and that he will fight hard to ensure that not only are the lessons learned but the money is there to support them?
I am glad that we are agreeing about so much today, but I am afraid that I cannot prejudge the SDSR in any way, shape or form, as that is more than my job is worth. However, I will say this: I think it highly unlikely that we will reduce the mental health services provided for our serving and ex-service personnel because, frankly, we have made commitments on that and we cannot possibly renege on them.