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Armed Forces: Mental Health

Volume 694: debated on Wednesday 25 July 2007

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Derek Twigg) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement:

I advised the House on 19 June 2007 (Official Report, Commons, col. 1752W), on 30 January 2007 (Official Report, Commons, col. 155W) and on 8 January (Official Report, Commons, col. 91W) that the department has been reviewing its methods of collating figures on service personnel diagnosed with a mental health disorder. I am pleased to be able to inform the House that the review process has now been completed and that the Defence Analytical Services Agency (DASA) will today be publishing its first quarterly report based on an improved method of collecting information on its website, Copies will also be made available in the Library of the House.

The department has moved from a system of recording and reporting mental health statistics relating solely to Operation TELIC (Iraq) to a new system covering all in-service personnel assessed with a mental health disorder at the Ministry of Defence’s out-patient departments of community mental health (DCMH). The report also includes a return for new in-patient admissions under the MoD’s contract with the Priory Group. The new reporting system has several advantages over the old:

it is more comprehensive, because it covers all service personnel;

it is more robust, because it verifies individual records of mental disorder against other data sets, such as deployment databases; and

there is less potential for subjective bias, because individual staff members in the DCMHs are no longer being asked to make a judgment as to whether a mental disorder is attributable to a specific operation.

The findings to date show that the numbers of service personnel assessed with a mental disorder in the first quarter of 2007 are low—around 5.8 per 1,000 strength, or 0.58 per cent of the total Armed Forces population. The numbers of service personnel assessed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) during the same period are around 0.3 per 1,000 strength, or 0.03 per cent of the total Armed Forces population. The actual numbers of individuals affected is 41 from Iraq and 13 from Afghanistan.

Any casualty of combat is clearly a matter of regret and we are committed to helping those whose mental health suffers. The publication of the first results of our new method of collecting and analysing data demonstrates our continuing commitment to understanding the true relationship between service on deployed operations and mental ill health and to making the results available to inform Parliament and the public.

In recent years, the department has developed pre- and post-deployment briefing and training to all personnel, but in particular to medical staff and the chain of command, to increase awareness of mental illness and to mitigate the development of PTSD and other stress-related disorders occurring among service personnel. It has configured our mental health services to provide community-based mental health care in line with national best practice, establishing 15 military departments of community mental health across the UK (plus satellite centres overseas). It has introduced a reserves mental health programme to assess and, if appropriate, treat recently demobilised reserves. It has expanded the scope of its medical assessment programme (MAP) at St Thomas’s Hospital to provide assessments by an expert in military mental health for any veterans suffering from mental health problems since 1982. It has also been working with UK health departments and clinical experts to establish a new community-based arrangement that will make available to NHS health professionals expertise in the assessment and treatment of veterans’ mental health problems; pilots to trial this arrangement will be launched shortly.

I am confident that the more comprehensive quarterly reports will offer an increased understanding of mental health statistics as the data set grows over the coming years.