Call for forums to oversee military personnel's health care

Military personnel should have their medical care overseen by a network of armed forces' forums set up across Wales, a report has recommended.

Healthcare Inspectorate Wales (HIW) also wants a veterans' mental health clinical network because of significant needs among ex-servicemen and women.

The recommendations come following a survey of serving and former staff and charities such as Combat Stress.

The Welsh government has pledged to improve support to military families.

The report recommends improvements to information, co-ordination and awareness and education in regards to healthcare.

It has drawn up six specific recommendations for the NHS, the Welsh government, charities and the military to consider.

The proposed armed forces forums - set up in seven health board areas - would bring together military representatives, medical staff and managers, social service and welfare bodies, charities and military community representatives.

They would focus on identifying health needs and ensuring they are kept under review and planned for, as well as compiling a directory of local services which will be of use to military personnel.

Veterans are entitled to priority treatment from the NHS if their medical needs relate to their military service.

The forums could monitor the effectiveness of this arrangement, the report suggests, and also bring in NHS training to deal with the particular needs of armed forces staff.

The report also noted: "The issue of mental health problems amongst veterans, caused as a result of experiences during service, was the subject of a significant proportion of the responses we received.

"It is clearly an area of significant current concern and where more work needs to be done in developing a coherent and accessible range of appropriate services."

HIW's second major recommendation is for each health board to set up a veterans' mental health clinical network to address veterans' needs.

Military hospitals

The inspectorate's chief executive Peter Higson said: "One of the key recommendations is that there needs to be better awareness. [Among] health service staff, it's patchy what they know about this community.

"For example the priority treatment arrangements are not well understood generally.

"For veterans, if there are two people of equal clinical needs, they get first place if it's a service-related injury.

"In the area of mental health, people don't know where to go, and often clearly they are in great distress when they're looking for help, and better signposting is needed."

Image caption Members of the 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh in Afghanistan in February 2010

Dr Higson added respondents had been concerned that the "current focus on the armed forces might fade with time, to their detriment in the decades ahead".

"I hope that our report will help to build on the commitments made by the Welsh government in its package of support so that the interests of the armed forces community are fully embedded in all areas of public policy and delivery in a way that will withstand the test of time."

Another of the recommendations is to consider setting up a medical residential facility for the military.

The British Armed Forces Federation said it would like to see a system of veterans health care similar to the one in America with military hospitals which offered lifelong care to veterans from the time they leave the military.

In a message for British Forces Broadcasting Service (BFBS), broadcast on Christmas Day, First Minister Carwyn Jones pledged more support in areas like health and housing, saying the forces "deserve nothing less".

The HIW report was carried out in support of the Welsh government's Expert Group on the Needs of the Armed Forces Community in Wales.

A Welsh government spokesman said it welcomed the report adding that it was committed to supporting the needs of the armed forces and veterans in Wales.

"We applaud the excellent services which support our work in this area and which seek to improve provision for veterans," he said.

"However, we also recognise the demand for healthcare services for veterans may increase in the future following recent and ongoing conflicts and we will need to keep services under review to meet this rising demand."

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