The Office for Veterans’ Affairs champions our veterans’ mental health and wellbeing needs at the heart of Government. This month, NHS England launched Operation Courage, bringing together three NHS England veterans’ mental health services with a single point of access. Op Courage is truly a game changer for veterans in the UK, including in the north-east.
The Royal British Legion has said that the current extortionate charges to Commonwealth veterans to settle in the UK are unfair and should end. We completely agree, so what is the Minister doing to end this unjust treatment of those who have risked their lives for our country?
Let me be absolutely clear: that is a policy that started under the previous Government. This is the first Government who have promised a pathway to residency for those who serve. We will deliver that. We are looking to consult in the coming months. This has been a long-term injustice for our foreign and Commonwealth service personnel and under this Government we are going to correct it.
There seem to be some really good schemes that have been awarded funding under the Positive Pathways programme, but what is the Minister doing to ensure that veterans know about these schemes, and how can we be sure that they are not just a short-term engagement with veterans but really offer the seamless route of care and support that is talked about in the documentation?
One of my biggest challenges in this role is not the fact that there are not pathways of care; it is getting people to understand that and to really be able to access fantastic, world-class healthcare and career advice and transition for a seamless progress from the military into civilian life. It is an ongoing effort and I welcome the hon. Lady’s efforts to help me with that.
The extra £10 million allocated in the Budget to supporting veterans’ mental health is a welcome step that the Opposition have been calling for. However, there is still a large disparity between physical and mental health support, and this extra money works out just at an extra £4 per veteran. Covid-19 has impacted heavily on veterans’ charities’ ability to raise funds and conduct their vital work. Will the Minister therefore commit to protecting our protectors and ensure that the funding is there for veterans to get the support that they need?
The £10 million announced by the Chancellor in the Budget was another important commitment, but we have also seen a greater commitment in the past few weeks with the launch of Operation Courage. It is the first integrated, single front-door approach to mental healthcare in our NHS for our veterans. It truly is a game-changer, and I urge veterans up and down the country to make sure that they are fully aware of what it offers. I will be going from this place to ensure that every GP practice and every NHS trust in the UK is part of that programme to ensure we do our duty by those who serve.
Five years ago, the Government announced that veterans could access the state-of-the-art £300 million Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre, but it has seen just 22 people in the past three years. What steps will the Minister be taking to widen veteran access to these facilities and make a meaningful difference to the day-to-day lives of those who have sustained serious injuries during their service?
I have commissioned a review into veterans’ access to the Defence and National Rehabilitation Centre. It is an important project. To be clear, in its original specification, it was a national rehab centre, but I recognise that there are opportunities for veterans to access world-class healthcare there. I have asked the veterans community and others to go away, do a piece of work and understand the ask. We will then address that with the DNRC, and I hope we can find a path through the middle to ensure we are looking after those who have served.