Armed Forces: Mental Health

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 26th November 2018.

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Photo of Bill Grant Bill Grant Conservative, Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock 12:00 am, 26th November 2018

What steps his Department is taking to provide mental health support to members of the armed forces.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

One third of us will be affected by a mental health condition or problem during our lifetime, and that applies also to those serving in the armed forces. The Prime Minister is very conscious of the issue and wants to remove the disparity between physical and mental health. It is why in 2017 we launched the mental health and wellbeing strategy, which is reaping dividends in removing the stigma attached to mental health issues.

Photo of Bill Grant Bill Grant Conservative, Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock

Will my right hon. Friend join me in commending the good work done by Combat Stress at its Hollybush House facility in my constituency? Will he consider what further assistance can be given to such organisations in providing mental health support to current and former members of the armed forces?

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

Combat Stress came about after the first world war, from which people were returning with conditions that we did not understand then. Today, 100 years later, Combat Stress continues to provide vital support, working with our armed forces to ensure that we provide the support necessary for those affected by such conditions, and I pay tribute to the work it has done. I recognise, however, that occasionally people do not get the treatment they are due. We are ensuring that all those who need it, no matter the circumstances, receive the support they deserve.

Photo of Chris Ruane Chris Ruane Shadow Minister (Wales)

The all-party group on mindfulness recently held an evidence session here in Parliament on the science and best practice of mindfulness in the UK fire, ambulance and police services and in the US Marines. Will the Minister look at the evidence to see whether our UK armed forces could benefit from this science-based intervention?

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. It is not just the armed forces who are subject to stress and other mental health issues. Our approach has been to promote better understanding of the issues he touches on to increase prevention, and better detection to provide early treatment. An awful lot can be done to compare notes and share best practice. I do that with the “Five Eyes” countries and I would be happy to sit down with him to discuss how we can do that for the blue light services, too.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I congratulate the Minister on Thursday’s debate, which was both informative and very interesting. Will he commit to write to every health body and local authority to explain exactly what they should be doing? I learnt an awful lot and they should be doing much more. I hope he will inform them of what they should be doing.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

One reason we introduced the Veterans Board, which is chaired by the Defence Secretary, was to hold other Government Departments to account. They have a duty of care to our armed forces personnel and their families, and to veterans. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments on the important debate we had last week. It is imperative that all clinical commissioning groups and local authorities recognise their duty to the armed forces covenant. We should have the same standards across the entire country.