What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Health on arrangements for ex-service personnel to receive continuing secondary health care.
I have regular contact with my Department of Health counterparts. Recently, I discussed our response to the Defence Committee's inquiry into Defence Medical Services. The issues that the Committee raised, including continuity of care for veterans, will be covered in the Government's formal response to its report.
In the light of that answer, will the Minister expand on the progress that has been made with the regional pilots that are being used to improve the mental health of ex-service personnel?
I have visited pilots in Stafford and Camden and am pleased to see that they are developing well. There are, of course, other pilots in Wales, St. Austell, Cleveland and Scotland. The pilots are important because they will allow us to develop a service tailored to the particular needs of veterans suffering from a mental health problem.
I should like to make it specifically clear that the issue is not about the actual standard of treatment and care—that is the same whether the patient is a civilian or from the services. The issue is about understanding the culture of the armed forces and about the experiences that might have led to the mental health problems of those who have served in them. There is a greater understanding and therefore better care; that is the important point to make. That links in with Combat Stress, with which we are working very closely.
The House will understand that the Government now understand the issues and we are grateful for that.
The Minister mentioned continuing health care. Will he also consult the ex-service associations and make it plain to those dealing with wills that the estates of those whose deaths, whether early or late, might have been brought forward by war service or wounds, can be inherited tax-free?
I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the answer to that today, but I shall certainly write to him with my views on the issue.
As a Department, we work closely with ex-service organisations on a range of issues; I meet their representatives regularly. That partnership is an important part of the support that we give those who have lost loved ones on operations in Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere and of the treatment of the wounded and veterans. That relationship is important for us.
As the Minister knows, I have a constituent who is suffering from post-combat mental stress. In the first instance, he is finding it very difficult to get a GP referral, and in the second instance, he is being told that he cannot get any treatment for it in the north of England, so he has to travel to the south of England, which is adding to the stress of his condition and that for his mother and the rest of his family. This is simply not acceptable, and I hope that the Minister will look at some alternatives so that we can have treatment for these very brave soldiers nearer to their homes.
That is why we are looking at mental health pilots to see how we can develop a system around the country so that people can get treated near to home. Although we are currently offering the medical assessment programme at St. Thomas's, we pay travel expenses for someone to go there. That support is important. Our doctor there, Dr. Ian Palmer, who is a former Army medic, will be able to link in with the individual's GP to help to advise on the best course of treatment for that individual. If my memory serves me right, I think that I have written to the hon. Lady about this issue, and I urge her to advise her constituents to take that advice.
I am confident that the enhancements we have made to the ongoing care for service personnel have created a first-class service. The House of Commons Defence Committee agrees, declaring in its February 2008 Report "Medical Care for the Armed Forces":
"The clinical care for Servicemen and women seriously injured on operations is second to none. Defence Medical Services personnel, working with the NHS, provide world-class care and we pay tribute to them".
We are not complacent and continue to examine what further improvements we can make in the medical care and welfare of our service personnel.
Alarming stories are emerging from servicemen who are being treated, under the MOD's contract for trauma stress, with The Priory Group. We have heard stories of people being told not to talk about their experiences for fear of upsetting civilian members of the group. We also heard of one case where an individual was sitting next to a woman who was receiving bereavement counselling for the loss of her cat. Does the Minister accept that it is not entirely appropriate that the psychological welfare of servicemen traumatised by war is being subcontracted out to an organisation such as The Priory Group?
Hon. Members will remember that we heard similar stories about various cases at Selly Oak. I will be happy to look at any individual case for which the hon. Gentleman can give me evidence. The Priory Group has, rightly, been treating our service personnel, but it works very closely with our department of community mental health, which visits it on a regular basis. Personally, I have not had any complaints, and I meet very many veterans, some of whom have been to the Priory. That is not to say that things do not go wrong on occasion. If the hon. Gentleman, or any other hon. Members, can give me details of specific cases, I assure him that I will have them investigated. As I say, we heard the same sort of stories about Selly Oak, but we have just had the report back about the medical services that are provided there for our injured service personnel, which are first class. I am not suggesting that we can never improve anywhere, but the Select Committee looked at current mental health care provision as well, and said that it was very good.
Following on from the previous question, if all personnel returning from war-torn areas are subject to counselling, what is the quality of that counselling?
The process is that if someone who is serving in Iraq or Afghanistan develops a mental health problem, they can go and see a community psychiatric nurse and, if necessary, a consultant. Many can be treated or cared for in operational service out there, and some will need to be sent back to the UK. We have our departments of community mental health around the country, which can provide them with support, and eventually, as we have just heard, they could be admitted to the Priory for further intensive care. In addition to that, our service personnel go through a period of decompression before they come back, which is very important. We also have in service the new trauma risk management system—TRiM—which was originally used by the Royal Marines and now by the Army. All the feedback on that from service personnel says that it is very good and helps people. There is effective support in theatre and back in the UK as well.
I pay tribute to the treatment that Lance Corporal Nick Davis, of my constituency, has received both at Selly Oak and at Headley Court. Although his amputation has been traumatic, he has been treated well, but I draw the Minister's attention to the fact that his family found it extremely difficult to visit him. His mother has been living with him in Birmingham, and then down in Epsom, but his father has had no support, with the children or with his job, to enable him to visit his gallant son. May I ask the Minister to consider giving support in these circumstances?
I give the hon. Gentleman a clear assurance that I will look into the case. When wounded services personnel are taken to Selly Oak, families are given funding to visit, and there is accommodation there for families. That provision is based on medical need, which is obvious when an injury first takes place and the person in question is admitted to Selly Oak.
With regard to Headley Court, if there is a clinical, medical need for it, support for families can be given. The Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association— SSAFA—has just invested in a house for families there. I am surprised to hear what the hon. Gentleman said, but if he gives me the details I assure him that I will look into the matter and get back to him.
Yes, I can give my hon. Friend that assurance, as I did with regard to the SSAFA house at Headley Court. SSAFA already helps with housing support at Selly Oak, and the new hospital being built there means that it will get even better facilities. It is an important part of the process that SSAFA is involved in the delivery of more housing for the families of injured service personnel. That is good because it shows the ex-service and charitable sector working with the Government to provide care, and it gives members of the public a chance to show their support for the armed forces.
In addition to the first-class medical care offered to our soldiers returning from Afghanistan, is it not high time that we recognised their great gallantry by striking a gallantry medal for those who have been wounded or even killed there? Perhaps we ought to call it the Prince Harry.
Order. That is far too wide of the question.