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Mental Health Services: Veterans

Volume 616: debated on Monday 7 November 2016

6. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Health on the provision of mental health services for veterans. (907095)

13. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Health on the provision of mental health services for veterans. (907104)

I will meet the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (David Mowat), shortly. I had several such meetings with his predecessor at which we discussed mental health.

Part of the problem is that only about 50% of veterans who have mental health issues come forward with them because of culture, stigma, or whatever. What are the Government doing to reach out to those who do not seek treatment to ensure that they also do so?

The hon. Gentleman makes a valuable point. The problem is not specific to veterans; for some time, we have had problems in society whereby mental health has been a stigma and people are reluctant to come forward. We are working closely with the Department of Health, because ultimately this is its responsibility, but we also have a number of programmes within the Ministry of Defence, not least the veterans and reserves mental health programme, which ensures that veterans are contacted one year after they leave the service to be encouraged to seek support if they need it.

Servicemen and women are able to access defence mental health services for up to six months after they leave the military, but poor mental health can kick in at any time. Given that the NHS is frankly on its knees in relation to mental health services, will the Minister consider extending the access period to allow veterans proper priority in mental health services? That would also take the pressures off the NHS.

This is an interesting area. Ultimately, the national health service is responsible for our veterans because, as a society, we do not have a specialist veterans department; I think that is the right approach. Nevertheless, we have invested over £13 million of LIBOR money in this specialist area. We do indeed allow people access for up to six months, and I am happy to look at the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion to see how we can perhaps do more.

The provision of a psychologist specialising in trauma services would be of huge benefit to the many veterans in Devon, particularly in East Devon, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Will my hon. Friend commit to having an early discussion with the Secretary of State for Health to make such a provision available to my constituents and others?

As I mentioned in my original answer, I have a regular meeting with my counterpart at the Department of Health, and I am happy to add my hon. Friend’s suggestion to the agenda.

While it is always a pleasure to hear from the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mrs Trevelyan), she has already had a substantive question. She can have another go in topicals, but Members cannot speak twice in substantives, I am afraid.

18. Analysis by Combat Stress has found that reservists who have served in recent military campaigns were more likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder than regular service members. What are the Minister and the Government doing specifically to ensure that those who volunteer for the reserves will have the necessary mental health treatment and support options once they have returned to civilian life? (907111)

I should declare my interest as a serving reservist. From my own experience of being mobilised on three occasions over recent years, I can say that it has been interesting to see the extra support I have had on returning from mobilised service latterly compared with when I first did it in 1999 to 2007. Progress is definitely being made. As I said, we have the veterans and reserves mental health programme, which ensures that extra support is given to reservists. I fully recognise that when reservists are demobilised they do not always have the same support as those returning to a regular unit.

19. The armed forces covenant makes it clear that veterans have distinct health needs and should receive priority treatment, but given the fragmentation in the health service, what monitoring is being done to make sure that they actually receive the treatment that they require? (907112)

In certain circumstances, veterans should have priority treatment. That is precisely why, on 13 July, I announced the new integrated high dependency care system, which is a partnership between the Ministry of Defence and the Department of Health to ensure that those who need specialist support can continue to get it from Defence Medical Services.