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Armed Forces: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Volume 597: debated on Thursday 18 February 1999

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3.15 p.m.

What are the procedures for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of post traumatic stress disorder for members of Her Majesty's Armed Forces.

My Lords, the Armed Forces recognise post traumatic stress disorder as a serious and potentially disabling medical condition. Each service runs programmes, the aims of which are to prevent PTSD occurring, and to inform service personnel how to recognise the symptoms. Any service personnel found to be suffering from PTSD will be offered treatment by service medical personnel and, if necessary, a consultant psychiatrist. Those deploying on military operations receive pre- and post-deployment briefings.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that very comprehensive reply. Is he aware that the symptoms of PTSD are shared with other illnesses; for example, organophosphate poisoning manifests symptoms that are very similar to PTSD? In the light of the fact that there are two suicides a month among the Gulf veterans, and that there are well over 200 former Gulf veterans in prison for offences which may well be associated with mood changes which are also associated with OP poisoning, could the Minister ask the medical providers within the military and those caring for Gulf veterans who have left the Armed Forces to look out for alternatives to PTSD—in other words, that they eliminate any organic cause before they turn to a psychiatric cause?

My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Countess for her first remark. As I am sure she is aware, when we encounter servicemen or women who might be suffering from PTSD, they are normally first examined by their service medical officers, and consultant psychiatrists consider the possibility of physical causes only if there is a clinical reason for doing so. Patients may require a whole range of medical investigations, and from time to time brain scans may be undertaken if there is—I emphasise—a clinical reason for doing so.

I do not challenge the statistics given by the noble Countess. However, this is the first time I have heard them, and I shall want to look into them closely before I can confirm them in detail.

My Lords, with the forthcoming closure of Haslar, can the Minister tell us where the problems of PTSD and other problems described by the noble Countess will be treated, as there will not be a military hospital which is able to do that work?

My Lords, as I am sure the noble Lord realises, there is no intention whatever of closing Haslar before adequate facilities are provided in the civilian community in the immediate neighbourhood. Whether those facilities will include treatment of the conditions to which the noble Lord has referred, I cannot tell him without notice.

My Lords, can the Minister assure us that anybody who is suspected of suffering from post traumatic stress disorder will be treated immediately and that there will be no delay? Bearing in mind that the Defence Medical Services are acutely short of personnel, what assurance can the Minister give the House that PTSD sufferers will be seen rapidly?

My Lords, as I am sure that the noble and gallant Lord recognises and recalls, one of the important conclusions of the recently published Strategic Defence Review was greatly to enhance the resources available to the Defence Medical Services. It will be some time before those decisions will take practical effect. I am sure that the noble and gallant Lord recognises that we shall do everything in our power to ensure that there are no unnecessary delays. If he knows of any cases where delay has occurred, I should he grateful if he would let me know.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that a number of psychiatric cases are cared for at Catterick and that, on the whole, members of the Gulf veterans community are extremely satisfied with the services provided? However, there seems to be a problem with one psychiatrist at Catterick who, despite being presented with patients with, for example, organic pain, refuses to let those patients go on to have further examinations and insists that they receive only psychiatric treatment. May I write to the Minister about a particular case, and about others which have occurred, to see whether we can rectify that situation?

My Lords, I was not aware of the problem to which the noble Countess refers. I am always happy to receive letters from her or for her to call on me to discuss such matters in great detail.