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GP practices recommend becoming veteran friendly

by Julie Griffiths
7 November 2023

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More than 2,300 GP practices in England have so far signed up to a scheme aimed at supporting the health needs of patients who have served in the Armed Forces – and others are being encouraged to do the same as Remembrance Day approaches.

The Veteran Friendly Accreditation scheme, developed by the RCGP and NHS England, hopes to support veterans who may be ‘silently struggling’ with their mental or physical health, particularly as news about current conflicts could be triggering.

The programme, which is free to implement, provides practices with a simple process for identifying, understanding and supporting veterans and, where appropriate, referring them to specialist physical and mental healthcare services designed especially for them.

There are 1.74 million military veterans in England, and common health issues include PTSD, drug and alcohol problems, adjustment disorders, pain, musculoskeletal (MSK) disorders and hearing issues.

Research suggests that many may be reluctant to seek help from healthcare professionals, particularly if they feel they will not be understood.

For example, less than half (49%) of those who experience a mental health issue typically seek formal medical support. Yet, those who delay seeking support report an increase in suicidal thoughts.

In addition, while the average GP practice sees a veteran patient every day, around half (47%) of practices may be unaware of how many of their patients are veterans.

And healthcare professionals and veterans are unfamiliar with the specialist veteran healthcare services that exist, such as Op COURAGE: The Veterans Mental Health and Wellbeing Service and Op RESTORE: The Veterans Physical Health and Wellbeing Service.

Other research has shown that nearly all GP practices that have gone through the Veteran Friendly Accreditation programme would recommend it. Evaluation by the University of Chester showed the most valued benefits for practices to sign up were the simple process for identifying veterans, clear referral pathways to specialist NHS veteran healthcare support and faster access to priority services.

Signing up to become veteran friendly accredited takes 20 minutes and can be done by anyone in the surgery team, whether their role is clinical or non-clinical, with practice managers often taking the lead.

While a clinical lead must be named, the learning and support can be shared across the wider practice team, with Social Prescribing Link Workers often ideally placed to play a key role in helping run this initiative in a practice.

The Institute of General Practice Management (IGPM) is lending its support to the campaign and encouraging its members to sign their practice up to become accredited.

Kay Keane, a director of the IGPM and a practice manager at the Urban Village Medical Practice in Ancoats, Manchester, said signing up to the scheme could make ‘a huge difference’ to veterans who may be silently struggling with their mental and physical health.

And it could help practices too, she said: ‘Not only has the scheme been found to improve outcomes for veteran patients by making it easier for practices to identify, support and, where appropriate, refer veterans to specialist healthcare services, but it also delivers significant benefits to busy practice teams too, saving time and reducing repeat appointments.’

Dr Emily Brookes, the RCGP’s Veterans Clinical Champion, said: ‘This Remembrance Day, I would encourage all practices to sign up to become Veteran Friendly in order to support their patients who have served in the Armed Forces.

‘We are delighted that over 77% of Primary Care Networks have at least one GP practice in their area accredited, with an overall 2,300+ GP practices already signed up to this scheme, and we’d encourage others to do the same – it really does make a difference to improving care.’

Practice managers can find out more about the RCGP scheme here.