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Armed Forces: Mental Health

Volume 698: debated on Thursday 31 January 2008

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

I can inform the House that the Defence Analytical Services Agency (DASA) will be publishing its second quarterly report recording figures on service personnel assessed with a mental disorder on its website www.dasa.mod.uk today. I shall also place copies in the Library of the House.

The findings, consistent with DASA's first report, show that the numbers of service personnel assessed with a mental disorder for the first time at one of our departments of community mental health in second quarter 2007 are low—around five per 1,000 strength, or 0.5 per cent of the total Armed Forces population. The numbers of service personnel assessed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for the first time during the same period are very low—around 0.3 per 1,000 strength or 0.03 per cent of the total Armed Forces population. They indicate that while service personnel who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan are more likely to be assessed with PTSD than those who served in more benign environments, the actual numbers of individuals affected—26 among those who had deployed, seven among those not deployed; and five cases where the deployment history could not be identified from centrally available patient records—are very low.

We take very seriously the risk of service personnel developing mental illness and attach a high priority to ensuring that individuals have access to the appropriate advice and, if needed, treatment at the right time. We have measures in place to increase awareness at all levels and to mitigate the development of operational stresses. We have mental health professionals available in theatre and are also increasingly using trauma risk management (TRiM)—a model of peer group mentoring—within the operational environment. Where further treatment is required, our mental health services back in the UK are configured to provide community-based mental healthcare within a military environment in line with national best practice.

For those who have left the Armed Forces, I made a joint announcement with the Department of Health in November of the extension of priority treatment to all cases where an individual's doctor considers his condition may be due to service, and of the launch of the first of a number of pilots of a new community-based veterans' mental health service. This service will provide assessment and, where appropriate, treatment from experts in veterans' mental health. Veterans will be able to access the service directly or through their GP, ex-service organisations, the Veterans' Welfare Service, or social service departments. The pilots at the Staffordshire and Shropshire Foundation Healthcare Trust and Camden and Islington are now open; Cardiff, Middlesbrough, St Austell and Scotland are due to follow. If the pilots prove successful, the model will be rolled out more widely across the UK.

As an interim measure, and to assist those veterans not in the catchment areas of one of the new community mental health pilots, we have expanded our medical assessment programme (MAP) based at St Thomas's Hospital, London, to include assessments of veterans with mental health symptoms with operational service from 1982 and whose GPs are concerned that they may not understand the military background of the condition or the appropriate treatment.

The MoD is the single biggest contributor to Combat Stress. Last year we gave it £2.5 million in fees for the care of individuals whose mental health conditions are accepted by the war pensions scheme as due to their military service. I recently announced a further increase of 45 per cent in the rate of fees to be met by the department. In cash terms, this sees the daily fee paid by the MoD to Combat Stress for the treatment of each eligible war pensioner increase from around £180 to around £260 a day. This represents a significant boost to the charity's finances. This substantial increase demonstrates the department's continuing commitment to help Combat Stress play an appropriate part in treating veterans with mental health problems and will help Combat Stress deliver an enhanced capability to treat war pensioners.

The publication of the second results of our new method of collecting and analysing the mental health 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.

I am confident that the more comprehensive quarterly reports will offer an increased understanding of psychiatric morbidity in the UK Armed Forces as the dataset grows over the coming years. It is our intent to publish subsequent quarterly reports on the same DASA website and to place a copy in the Library of the House as they become available.