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Mental Health (Soldiers)

Volume 548: debated on Monday 16 July 2012

10. What additional support he plans to provide for mental health conditions experienced by current and former soldiers. (116900)

The Ministry of Defence is committed to offering a high standard of mental health care to those who need it. In his “Fighting Fit” report, my hon. Friend the Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison) made a wide range of recommendations for improvements to mental health care for both serving and former armed forces personnel. The MOD is working with the Department of Health to implement the recommendations, and I am pleased to report that excellent progress is being made.

With the stigma of mental health increasingly being lifted in our society, not least in the armed services, will the Minister take it on himself to ensure that every mental health trust across the country is required, in partnership with his Department, to have an effective strategy for dealing with current and former members of the armed services?

The hon. Gentleman is quite right that the stigma is being lifted. Indeed, there is a programme in the Army called trauma risk management, or TRiM, which means that if somebody appears to have some mental problems, his comrades in arms will go to the chain of command and say that they think that so-and-so is having trouble and should be looked at carefully. We are already deploying extra mental health nurses across the Department of Health as a result of the “Fighting Fit” report. If the hon. Gentleman has not read it, I strongly recommend that he does because it is an extremely good piece of work.

Does the Minister agree that it should be a key objective of any Government, whether led by those on the Government Benches or by the Opposition, to look after people who have been mentally or physically hurt in the service of our country for the rest of their lives?

I do agree and I think that those who have been injured mentally or physically in the service of our country and of us all deserve due consideration. That is certainly what we look to give them. In the spirit of co-operation, let me say that I thought the armed forces compensation scheme, which was put in place by the previous Government, was a very good scheme.

Reports show that there is a higher incidence of mental ill health among reservists who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan than among those from the regular forces. Recent announcements make it clear that the Government intend to rely more heavily on reservists in the coming years. Will the Minister say whether the MOD intends to give greater importance to reservists’ mental health, and what measures he will put in place to analyse the reasons for the disparity and to improve their mental health?

The hon. Lady is correct, in that it is more difficult to keep tabs on reservists because they go out of the military environment back to their homes and jobs and so on. They also do not have the cocoon, dare I say it, of having their comrades around them. We are taking action, and I want to mention two things in particular. First, the medical assessment programme and the reserves’ mental health programme are currently based in St Thomas’s hospital. We are moving the medical assessment programme to Chilwell in the very near future—

No, we are certainly not downgrading it. Indeed, I went there only about a month ago to talk about it to those involved, and they think that it is the right way forward.

Secondly, Professor Simon Wessely at the King’s Centre for Military Health Research is carrying out an in-depth study into the mental health problems that people encounter, particularly focusing on reservists.

Not all people suffer after-effects. I believe that my hon. Friend’s son has served or is serving in Afghanistan: is that correct?

He is. Not all people who return from Afghanistan have mental health after-effects, but it is obviously a concern that some people do. Within units in particular, there are various options, including the programme I have mentioned, TRiM, and a programme called the Big White Wall. It is an online programme and people can put their feelings anonymously on a big white wall. There is a huge amount of support, but it is not always easy to access. We want to make it easier for families and others to access that mental health provision—

Order. We are extremely grateful to the Minister, but I think that the Minister and the hon. Lady should have a cup of tea together and discuss the matter further.