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Practices encouraged to support struggling veteran patients

by Rima Evans
8 April 2024

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Veterans are reluctant to seek help from their GP practice, a new survey has shown, even though more than half have experienced a mental or physical health issue potentially related to their service.

Data collected in February shows that one in seven people who have served in the UK armed forces and suffered health problems after leaving haven’t accessed care or treatment from a health professional often because of fears their experiences and conditions won’t be understood.

However, the survey of 4,910 veterans in England also revealed that six in 10 would be more likely to ask for help if they knew their practice was Veteran Friendly Accredited.

The finding has led to a renewed call for practice managers to play a key role in boosting care for former members of the UK armed forces by signing their surgery up to become ‘veteran friendly’.

The call to action is part of a wider government campaign, launched last month, aimed at ensuring all veterans are able and motivated to seek help if and when they need it, and encouraging them to let their GP practice know they’ve served. It is also intended to raise awareness of the support available to them.

The Veteran Friendly Accreditation scheme was set up by the RCGP and NHS England in 2018.

It is a free programme that provides practice teams with a simple process for identifying, coding, understanding and supporting veterans and, where appropriate, referring them to dedicated physical and mental health and wellbeing services. These include Op COURAGE: The Veterans Mental Health and Wellbeing Service and Op RESTORE: The Veterans Physical Health and Wellbeing Service.

Accredited practices appoint a clinical lead who receives training and support, as well an information pack to help increase their understanding of the health needs of veterans (which can be different to the general population) and the services available to them.

Signing up is a quick process and can be done by anyone in the practice team. Teams also receive materials to promote their Veteran Friendly status.

To date, 3,059 practices are accredited.

Evaluation of the scheme in 2022 by the University of Chester found that 99% of accredited practices recommend it – with findings showing the most valued benefits of signing up are the simple process for identifying veteran patients, clear referral pathways to specialist NHS veteran healthcare services and faster access to dedicated support.

Army veteran Jon Lynn, a patient at Orchard Surgery in Bromborough, Merseyside, said he struggled with his mental and physical health after leaving the military, prompting him to get in contact with his GP practice and share his service experiences.

He said: ‘They immediately understood my needs and issues and were able to quickly refer me to the specialist health services that exist for veterans.

‘I firmly believe that having access to a Veteran Friendly Accredited GP practice and sharing my status as a veteran saved my life as well as my marriage, enabling me to quickly and easily get the help and support I desperately needed. I’d encourage all practices to sign up to the scheme, it could make a life-saving difference to your patients who have served in the armed forces.’

The accreditation scheme is also supported by the Institute of General Practice Management (IGPM).

Nicola Davies, a director of the IGPM and also the wife of a veteran said the data shows thousands may be silently struggling with their health.

Practices can help break down the barriers that prevent some veterans from seeking help by becoming veteran friendly, she added.

‘The scheme equips practice teams with all the information and training you’ll need to ensure you’re able to comprehensively support veteran patients and, when required, straightforwardly refer them to the specialist NHS health services that exist to help them.’ 

Practice teams can learn more and get their practice Veteran Friendly Accredited by visiting  

Key survey findings

A survey of 4,910 veterans in England carried out in February showed that:

  • Since leaving the armed forces, 55% have experienced a mental or physical health issue potentially related to their service
  • 84% stated their condition had deteriorated during this time
  • 14% who have experienced service-related issues since leaving the armed forces have not sought help from a healthcare professional
  • The most common reasons given for not seeking help were that they ‘prefer to manage their issues on their own’ (30%) and believe a civilian health professional ‘won’t understand their experiences’ (15%)
  • 63% would be more likely to seek help for any issues if they knew their practice was Veteran Friendly Accredited.