Mental Health Services: Veterans

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th November 2016.

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Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Shadow Minister (Housing) 12:00 am, 7th November 2016

What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Health on the provision of mental health services for veterans.

Photo of Karl Turner Karl Turner Opposition Whip (Commons)

What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Health on the provision of mental health services for veterans.

Photo of Mark Lancaster Mark Lancaster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

I will meet the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend David Mowat, shortly. I had several such meetings with his predecessor at which we discussed mental health.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Shadow Minister (Housing)

Part of the problem is that only about 50% of veterans who have mental health issues come forward with them because of culture, stigma, or whatever. What are the Government doing to reach out to those who do not seek treatment to ensure that they also do so?

Photo of Mark Lancaster Mark Lancaster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

The hon. Gentleman makes a valuable point. The problem is not specific to veterans; for some time, we have had problems in society whereby mental health has been a stigma and people are reluctant to come forward. We are working closely with the Department of Health, because ultimately this is its responsibility, but we also have a number of programmes within the Ministry of Defence, not least the veterans and reserves mental health programme, which ensures that veterans are contacted one year after they leave the service to be encouraged to seek support if they need it.

Photo of Karl Turner Karl Turner Opposition Whip (Commons)

Servicemen and women are able to access defence mental health services for up to six months after they leave the military, but poor mental health can kick in at any time. Given that the NHS is frankly on its knees in relation to mental health services, will the Minister consider extending the access period to allow veterans proper priority in mental health services? That would also take the pressures off the NHS.

Photo of Mark Lancaster Mark Lancaster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

This is an interesting area. Ultimately, the national health service is responsible for our veterans because, as a society, we do not have a specialist veterans agency; I think that is the right approach. Nevertheless, we have invested over £13 million of LIBOR money in this specialist area. We do indeed allow people access for up to six months, and I am happy to look at the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion to see how we can perhaps do more.

Photo of Hugo Swire Hugo Swire Conservative, East Devon

The provision of a psychologist specialising in trauma services would be of huge benefit to the many veterans in Devon, particularly in East Devon, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Will my hon. Friend commit to having an early discussion with the Secretary of State for Health to make such a provision available to my constituents and others?

Photo of Mark Lancaster Mark Lancaster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

As I mentioned in my original answer, I have a regular meeting with my counterpart at the Department of Health, and I am happy to add my hon. Friend’s suggestion to the agenda.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Speaker of the House of Commons

While it is always a pleasure to hear from Mrs Trevelyan, she has already had a substantive question. She can have another go in topicals, but Members cannot speak twice in substantives, I am afraid.

Photo of Luciana Berger Luciana Berger Labour/Co-operative, Liverpool, Wavertree

Analysis by Combat Stress has found that reservists who have served in recent military campaigns were more likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder than regular service members. What are the Minister and the Government doing specifically to ensure that those who volunteer for the reserves will have the necessary mental health treatment and support options once they have returned to civilian life?

Photo of Mark Lancaster Mark Lancaster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

I should declare my interest as a serving reservist. From my own experience of being mobilised on three occasions over recent years, I can say that it has been interesting to see the extra support I have had on returning from mobilised service latterly compared with when I first did it in 1999 to 2007. Progress is definitely being made. As I said, we have the veterans and reserves mental health programme, which ensures that extra support is given to reservists. I fully recognise that when reservists are demobilised they do not always have the same support as those returning to a regular unit.

Photo of Rushanara Ali Rushanara Ali Labour, Bethnal Green and Bow

The armed forces covenant makes it clear that veterans have distinct health needs and should receive priority treatment, but given the fragmentation in the health service, what monitoring is being done to make sure that they actually receive the treatment that they require?

Photo of Mark Lancaster Mark Lancaster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

In certain circumstances, veterans should have priority treatment. That is precisely why, on 13 July, I announced the new integrated high dependency care system, which is a partnership between the Ministry of Defence and the Department of Health to ensure that those who need specialist support can continue to get it from Defence Medical Services.