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Veterans’ mental health scheme gets £2.7m funding

by Jess Hacker
1 September 2021

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Mental health services for army veterans will be expanded with £2.7m new funding, the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) has announced.

The funding will back ‘Op COURAGE’, the specialist mental health service for veterans, including those who served in Afghanistan, which allows for a same-day referral for those needing urgent help.

Dedicated care co-ordinators will be appointed to act as single point contacts for veterans to help them navigate the care system and will consult with health and care professionals on their behalf.

Currently, veterans looking to use Op COURAGE services must either ask their GP or a charity to refer them or directly contact the service themselves. It has received 16,000 referrals to date.

The expansion will aim to reduce suicide rates among former members of the Armed Forces and improve support available to those experiencing complex mental and/or physical trauma, or alcohol and substance misuse, with dedicated services for the latter to be integrated fully into the programme.

It is estimated that 38,000 members of the Armed Forces community, including veterans, suffer from alcohol and substance misuse.

Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, said: ‘Op COURAGE already provides excellent support for veterans’ mental health, but I know there is more we can do to get the right care and treatment to those who have given up so much to protect us.

‘This new funding will ensure support is in place where it is needed most, recognising the unique challenges veterans face.’

Meanwhile, defence secretary, Ben Wallace, said the Government remains committed to supporting this veteran community via Op COURAGE.

Earlier this year, Management in Practice learned that a total of 880 practices have so far been accredited as ‘veteran friendly’ under the RCGP’s veteran aware accreditation scheme. Backed by NHS England, it was introduced in 2018 to improve medical care and treatment for former armed service members.

It requires practices to have a lead for veterans’ issues within the surgery and to facilitate training to understand those needs.

Independent healthcare organisations have urged the Government to take inspiration from the model used to support veterans when designing mental health services for NHS staff dealing with pandemic-related disorders.