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Mental Health Services

Volume 698: debated on Monday 5 July 2021

What steps he is taking to help improve provision of mental health services for members of the armed forces. (902165)

What steps he is taking to help improve provision of mental health services for members of the armed forces. (902171)

The Ministry of Defence is determined to provide the best possible mental health support and care for members of the armed forces. We have introduced a 24-hour mental health helpline for service personnel and families in tandem with Combat Stress. We have also introduced HeadFIT, a training website for mental health, and, from September, all serving personnel will receive a mandatory annual briefing on mental health awareness. All of this must be underlined by a cultural shift in which it is okay to say that you are not okay.

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer and for the work that has been done, but he must also know that Government targets on mental healthcare have been missed for veterans across all services in England, including a wait of 37 days for face-to-face appointments through the transition, intervention and liaison service against a target of just 14. Will he now commit to reviewing these services to ensure that our serving personnel and veterans absolutely get the best standards of care, which they need and deserve?

We are committed to ensuring that veterans and service personnel receive a gold standard of care. I was with Op Courage clinicians last week and I was pleased to learn that wait times for those seeking high intensity treatment for high intensity and complex problems have decreased. I was also very encouraged to learn that veterans themselves are part of the mental health support in the form of peer support workers. We will always have more to do, but good progress is being made.

The armed forces covenant states:

“Those injured in Service, whether physically or mentally, should be cared for in a way which reflects the Nation’s moral obligation to them”.

However, the Defence Committee’s 2019 report on mental health suggests that there was a 50% shortfall in both uniformed and civilian psychiatrists’ posts. Can the Minister set out an updated estimate, and what he is doing to ensure that staffing meets the demand from service communities?

We will always go after any gaps in provision, but I am confident that progress is being made. When it comes to delivering on our obligations on the covenant, which is to ensure that no serving personnel or veteran is disadvantaged in any way, I am very proud that we are right in the middle of taking forward the Armed Forces Bill.

Government figures show that the number of service personnel being seen by the MOD’s specialist mental health services for initial assessment has fallen by 36% since 2013 to an all-time low. That is despite personnel being more willing to seek help for mental health issues. Will the Minister commit to reviewing all current mental health provision for our armed forces personnel?

I welcome that question because, as I mentioned, apart from the physical provision, we are seeking a cultural change and an institutional shift across all our armed forces, led by the chain of command, in which people feel comfortable asking for help. We are already seeing a tangible benefit in that regard. I saw some of that up close when I visited the Op Courage clinicians in St Pancras last week.