Armed Forces Covenant Annual Report 2017 Contents


Priority Access to NHS Medical Treatment

113.The Government announced in November 2007 that priority access to NHS medical treatment would be extended to all veterans whose injuries or ill health were attributable to their military service (before this the priority applied only to those in receipt of War Pensions).159 Guidance was issued to GPs that they should make it clear in referrals to secondary care for conditions related to military service that the patient was a veteran and should be considered for priority treatment over other patients of equal clinical need.

114.Nevertheless, the Royal British Legion in its comments on the 2016 Covenant Annual Report, identified lack of awareness amongst healthcare professionals of veteran priority treatment as a continuing problem.160 In its comments on the 2017 Annual Report, the Legion stated that it had worked closely with the NHS in England and in Wales to identify problems with the delivery of the policy of priority treatment and how it could be improved.161 The Legion welcomed the progress outlined in the Annual Report, but noted that there were still challenges to be addressed. In oral evidence to us, the Legion explained that “the issues lie in the delivery of the services that are available” which could be difficult to navigate, and that the provision of services is different in England (and there are differences within England) and the devolved administrations.162 The MoD said they had established an access and equity group to examine the issue of differences in accessing treatment. Helen Helliwell said that although delivery might not be the same, access should be the same across the devolved administrations.163

115.The single Service Families Federations were pleased that Armed Forces and Veterans issues were now part of the national curriculum for GPs, and will be tested in their Royal College of General Practitioners membership examination. This, they saw as an extremely positive development.164

116.In contrast, the Scottish Veterans Commissioner, in a recent report, called for a rethink of veterans’ priority treatment.165 While recognising the political and public support for veterans receiving ‘special treatment’ he argued that “the concept is flawed, often misunderstood and occasionally ignored by a number of health professionals and veterans—whether unwittingly or, in some cases, quite deliberately”. He added:

These views have been emboldened in recent months by feedback received from many individuals and organisations. This has reinforced the fundamental point that care within the NHS is based on clinical need and not on the background, occupation or category of a patient. As a consequence, the promise of priority treatment for veterans is a largely meaningless concept that rarely has any direct impact on individuals.166

He believed the emphasis on waiting list times should be replaced by a greater focus upon the principles of excellence, and upon accessible and sustainable treatment for all veterans.

117.While we recognise the progress made, we are concerned to hear about continuing difficulties in veterans receiving priority access to NHS medical treatment, when their injuries or ill-health are attributable to their military service. We call on the Government, in partnership with the devolved administrations, to instigate a specific study as a priority to examine and tackle the inconsistencies in how veterans receive priority treatment. Part of the study should consider enhancing the role of local Covenant champions in ensuring that local health care providers are aware of, and implement, this right for veterans. We also note the recent call of the Scottish Veterans Commissioner for a rethink of priority treatment for veterans. In undertaking this reform, however, it is important that any changes are considered within the context of the entire UK, so as not to increase current inconsistencies.

Mental Health

118.In this section we comment briefly on the provision of mental health treatment to veterans and Service personnel. This topic will be covered in more detail when we complete our separate inquiry into these matters.167

119.In 2017, NHS England launched the Transition, Intervention and Liaison Service. The 2017 Covenant Annual Report says that the service increases access to mental health services and treatment options, “doubling the size of the current regional bespoke mental healthcare for veterans in England”.168 It provides support for the general and complex mental health needs of Veterans and, for the first time, serving personnel preparing to leave the Armed Forces can also access NHS care and treatment for mental health conditions, providing continuity when it is most needed. In England, most veterans use mainstream NHS mental health services. These are expanding through the national Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme that now has a duty to record Veteran status. In April 2017, this duty was extended to all mental health services.

120.Spending on mental health for the general population in England has increased to a record £11.4 billion in 2016–17, with a further investment planned of £1 billion every year by 2020–21.169 NHS England spends £6.4 million per annum on additional bespoke services for Veterans. NHS England has commissioned pilots of its Liaison and Diversion programme which aims to enhance means of identification and to improve care options for serving personnel and Veterans in the criminal justice system and to enhance the services provided to their families.

121.The 2017 Covenant Annual Report states “healthcare priorities in Scotland in 2017 included funding the provision of specialist mental health services for Veterans resident in Scotland at £1.2 million per year to 2018 in partnership with NHS Scotland and Combat Stress”.170

122.Alongside the Wales’ National Action Plan, there are a number of schemes under way in Wales aimed at addressing the mental health needs of Veterans.171 A new partnership between Veterans NHS Wales and Change Step is helping Veterans in Wales access crucial mental health treatment and support. Two highly skilled Veteran peer mentors are working alongside specialist psychological therapists to support veterans who need treatment related to experiences during their time in service, or in adjusting to civilian life. The Welsh mental health charity, Hafal, is leading the Wales-wide Forces for Change programme which encourages Armed Forces and blue light Veterans to reach out to fellow Veterans who are experiencing mental health problems. Their goal is to support them in accessing the services needed to recover and to hear their ideas about how those services could be improved. At the end of the campaign, recommendations will be made on developing and improving services across Wales.

123.In Northern Ireland, Defence Medical Services provides mental health treatment for Service personnel and those in transition to civilian life.172 Outpatient services are primarily supplied via military Departments of Community Mental Health. Inpatient care is provided by the Health Service, contracted by the MoD.

124.As part of their observations on the 2017 Covenant Annual Report, the single Service Families Federations stated:

We would like to recognise formally the activity, support and engagement offered by the Armed Forces Commissioning Managers within NHS England, which has been outstanding; they continue to assist many families in need of advice and help. We also welcome the Defence People Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy and we are pleased to note that Mental Health is at the forefront of the Health Agenda. We look forward to seeing the new services implemented over the coming months.173

Mental Health helplines

125.During our inquiry, a campaign was underway for the Government to provide a 24-hour mental health helpline for serving personnel. A 24/7 helpline for veterans, provided by Combat Stress, was already in existence which had clinicians available to provide assistance to callers. However, it was not clear whether this was also available to personnel who were still serving. In addition, campaigners did not believe it should be left to the ‘third-sector’ to provide this service. On 25 February 2018, the Secretary of State for Defence launched a new 24/7 Military Mental Health Helpline.174 He pledged an extra £2 million per year for mental health services for the next decade in addition to the £20 million already spent each year and added:

I will personally be working with all the Service chiefs to make sure there isn’t a single person in the forces who doesn’t know where to turn in times of trouble.

126.We are pleased to hear of the progress being made in mental health provision but acknowledge that disparities still exist across the UK. We call on the Government and the devolved administrations to ensure that best practice is shared and that services across all the different parts of the UK are of a comparably and consistently high standard.

127.We note the establishment in February 2018 of the new 24/7 Mental Health Helpline for serving personnel and their families. In response to our report, the MoD should set out how it will measure its effectiveness and ensure that it does not simply replicate the existing Combat Stress helpline. We expect to receive data on the number of calls received and actions taken in response to calls to both helplines.

Inspections of MoD Defence Medical facilities

128.COBSEO told us of their concerns that the Covenant Annual Report 2017 contained no mention of “the pressures that the MoD-owned Departments of Community Mental Health (DCMH) in the UK are under, and what this means in terms of the reduced access to mental health services for serving personnel in the UK”.175 For example, they understood that in Catterick the local advice was that low-risk Service personnel should be referred in the first instance to welfare agencies (including SSAFA) in order to ease DCMH waiting list pressures.

129.The Report stated that Defence Medical Services had agreed with the Care Quality Commission (CQC) a programme of inspections of Defence Medical Treatment Facilities in order to provide external scrutiny and assurance of the quality of medical care being delivered to Service personnel.176 13 Medical and Dental Centres had been inspected in the first quarter of the 2017–18 financial year. Inspections of Regional Rehabilitation Units and Departments of Community Mental Health were due to start before the end of the year. Defence inspection reports were being published on the CQC website in a similar manner to NHS inspection reports. Where the CQC identified areas for improvement, covering governance, staffing and infrastructure, the Surgeon General was committed to addressing its recommendations.

130.The MoD provided further details of the Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspections of Defence Primary Healthcare (DPHC) which began in April 2017.177 To date there had been 57 inspections with 40 reports published on the CQC website.178 These reports related to 21 Medical Centres, 17 Dental Centres, one Regional Rehabilitation Unit (RRU) and one DCMH. All 17 of the Dental Centres inspected had been awarded a pass, although the CQC noted a significant number of infrastructure issues. The RAF Cosford RRU passed in all areas. The RAF Brize Norton DCMH was graded as ‘Requires Improvement’.

131.The outcomes of the CQC inspections of Medical Centres had been variable. Four Medical Centres have been graded as ‘Outstanding’, with several areas of notable practice. Six Medical Centres have been graded as ‘Good’, and 10 as ‘Requires Improvement’. One Medical Centre, RAF Scampton, had been graded as ‘Inadequate’. Corrective measures had been put in place and a follow-up report after a re-inspection in February was published in April 2018. The CQC has already produced summaries of issues identified, according to the Key Lines of Enquiry, and aimed to produce an annual report at the end of the first year of inspections in June 2018.179

132.We welcome the Care Quality Commission’s inspection programme of Defence Medical Treatment Facilities, including MoD Departments of Community Mental Health, and the fact that their inspection reports are publicly available. We look forward to seeing the Annual Report on the inspections. In response to our report, the MoD should set out what work is planned to draw together any thematic concerns identified by the individual inspections that apply across the treatment facilities so that necessary improvements can be made.

159 “Government to boost Veterans healthcare”, Ministry of Defence press release item, 23 November 2007

160 Ministry of Defence, Armed Forces Covenant Annual Report 2016, 15 December 2016, p 19

161 Ministry of Defence, Armed Forces Covenant Annual Report 2017, 18 December 2017, p 20

164 Ministry of Defence, Armed Forces Covenant Annual Report 2017, 18 December 2017, p 13

165 Scottish Veterans Commissioner, Veterans’ Health and Wellbeing—A Distinctive Scottish Approach, April 2018, pp 9–10

166 Scottish Veterans Commissioner, Veterans’ Health and Wellbeing—A Distinctive Scottish Approach, April 2018, pp 9–10

167 For further information see the Defence Committee’s inquiry page: Armed Forces and veterans mental health .

168 Ministry of Defence, Armed Forces Covenant Annual Report 2017, 18 December 2017, p 25

169 Ministry of Defence, Armed Forces Covenant Annual Report 2017, 18 December 2017, p 26

170 Ministry of Defence, Armed Forces Covenant Annual Report 2017, 18 December 2017, p 26

171 Ministry of Defence, Armed Forces Covenant Annual Report 2017, 18 December 2017, p 27

172 Ministry of Defence, Armed Forces Covenant Annual Report 2017, 18 December 2017, p 27

173 Ministry of Defence, Armed Forces Covenant Annual Report 2017, 18 December 2017, p 13

175 Ministry of Defence, Armed Forces Covenant Annual Report 2017, 18 December 2017, p 19

176 Ministry of Defence, Armed Forces Covenant Annual Report 2017, 18 December 2017, pp 23–24

177 Ministry of Defence (AFC0001)

178 Ministry of Defence (AFC0001); see also Care Quality Commission: Defence Medical Services (accessed on 20 June 2018)

179 Ministry of Defence (AFC0001); The 5 Key Lines of Enquiry (KLOE) are: Are services safe? Are services effective? Are services caring? Are services responsive? Are services well-led?

Published: 30 June 2018