Around half of an estimated 2 million veterans in the UK have a long-term illness, disability or infirmity, according to a recent study. However, evidence has previously suggested that some veterans may be reluctant to discuss health problems with clinicians due to concerns there would be a lack of understanding.
This is why the RCGP partnered with NHS England to launch a veteran-friendly accreditation scheme, which hopes to enable healthcare workers to deliver better care and treatment to patients who have served in the armed forces.
Over 1,500 practices across England are so far accredited as ‘veteran friendly’ under the free scheme.
Lisa Fall, practice manager at one of these accredited practices, Atrium Health Centre in Dorchester, Dorset, which signed up to the scheme in February 2020, shares why she would recommend it to all practices.
How did you hear about the veteran friendly scheme and what made your practice get involved?
A member of staff was a military veteran and they’d heard about the scheme through something else they were involved in. They asked me if we could sign up. We discussed it, made a list of pros and cons, and it turned out that there were far more pros than cons.
The biggest obstacle was having to advertise the service to patients, and that’s not a big deal really.
But the main benefit for veteran patients was that our GPs would know who they were, as well as learn how and where to get them extra support.
How does the veteran friendly scheme work?
It’s really simple.
Initially, it’s a case of signing up with RCGP and then publicising the fact you offer this service. As part of the scheme, we code those patients who are military veterans on their records. GPs, clinical staff and our social prescribers can then easily identify who is a veteran and, if necessary, can offer them additional support.
The biggest challenge is getting the message out to patients that we do this. We’ve got a dedicated page on our website about the scheme, which is updated with any information we receive from the RCGP or other veteran-friendly practices.
We have also used our patient participation group, the practice’s Facebook page and posters in the surgery to try and spread the word. When a new patient registers with the practice, our new patient questionnaire also now asks if they are a military veteran, so we can code them correctly.
We make sure all our staff, including receptionists, are aware of the accreditation. There’s a training session that practice staff can do so they are all aware of the scheme and how it works.
Raising staff awareness can be helpful in finding patients that don’t approach us about the scheme first. For example, a receptionist chatting to one of our patients when they were signing up for online services found out they had served in World War Two. The patient was then correctly coded on the system by that member of staff.
We found that through Facebook, our website and just word of mouth, the message about us being veteran-friendly spread. However, practices can also send out letters and texts.
How many veterans do you have in your practice?
Quite a few hundred now.
Do you think the accreditation makes a difference?
Yes, it can just give patients that extra help they need.
I think it helps patients more easily speak to the clinician because they are aware of their background and the fact that they may need extra support.
Similarly, GPs can offer a better service. We have a patient who suffers from PTSD and because the GP they were speaking to was aware of the veteran-friendly scheme, he was able to signpost the person to more specialised support, as opposed to the usual mental health support services.
Our social prescribers have great links with local veterans’ societies, so they also know where to pass people on to for support. I’d advise any practice to look for local support groups in their area and make sure their patients are aware of them.
Patients who have been able to access these specialised services have really appreciated them.
Our staff have also benefitted. They seem more at ease when it comes to signposting patients to other services. But also, they now have a greater understanding of what military veterans have been through, what they need, and how practices can help.
What do you get as a practice to help deliver this scheme?
There’s lots of information provided by the RCGP. The college provides material to publicise the scheme, such as banners that you can use on your website, it offers training, and provides hints and tips on what you can do as a practice to make the scheme a success. There is lots of information on their website when you sign up. It’s a really easy process.
Would you recommend it to other practices?
Definitely. It’s so easy to do and it hugely benefits a group of patients, often missed and forgotten about.