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Thursday 21 February 2019
Derbyshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust
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Military veterans to offer advice to NHS staff on improving access to mental healthcare

Improving access to NHS mental health services for Derbyshire’s military veterans is set to be the focus of a dedicated seminar this week.

Derbyshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, in partnership with the Ministry of Defence, will host the one-day Veterans Mental Health Conference and Networking Day on Friday 30 September at Chetwynd Barracks in Chilwell, Nottingham. The event will give Armed Forces personnel the opportunity to come together with mental health experts – and representatives from local army support groups – to share invaluable experiences and insights which can be used to enhance the accessibility and effectiveness of future healthcare provisions for those transitioning from military service back into civilian life.

International speaker Lieutenant Colonel (rtd) Stewart Hill of B Coy 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment will also share his powerful journey with those in attendance – a story which illustrates how Stewart went from suffering a traumatic brain injury whilst on command in Afghanistan to becoming involved in a number of leading projects such as Walking with the Wounded and the Invictus Choir.

Not only will the Veterans Mental Health Conference and Networking Day be a chance to support a smoother transition from armed forces healthcare to local NHS services, veterans and health professionals will also get to meet with groups such as the Royal British Legion, Derbyshire Alcohol Advice Services and Combat Stress to highlight the challenges soldiers face adjusting to civilian life and what local help is available to support this.

Specific presentations on mental health, adjustment and transition to civilian life, welfare support and personal stories from veterans, as well as workshops to encourage engagement and dialogue between everyone involved will be on offer too.

On the motivation for arranging the event Helen Raisbeck, veterans lead nurse for Derbyshire Healthcare, said: “Our healthcare professionals work hard to reach out to all groups in our community, so that everyone can get the support they need when they are experiencing poor mental health; this includes Armed Forces veterans. Our servicemen and women deserve the very best possible care and support when they leave the military – something that is enshrined in the Armed Forces Community Covenant. 

“Research shows that veterans do not always register with an NHS general practitioner (GP) once they leave service or if they do register, often at a time of crisis, they may omit to mention their military background. Telling the GP practice about your veteran’s status should trigger the transfer of your full medical documentation from the Ministry of Defence to your GP and enable you to benefit from veteran-specific NHS services, including specialist mental health services.

“We hope the Veterans Mental Health Conference and Networking Day will improve awareness of where veterans should go for help, raise the profile of NHS veterans’ mental health services and further increase understanding amongst health professionals of the unique issues faced by those from an armed forces background.”

On transitioning from the army to civilian life, an Armed Forces veteran who wishes to remain anonymous explained: “Adapting to ‘civvy street’ is very, very difficult. I’ve met many veterans who come out of the army as proud men but soon feel alienated from society and believe they don’t fit in. So they withdraw from society completely and start drinking or getting into trouble with the police. Worse still, they start thinking suicidal thoughts, just as I did.

“It shouldn’t be happening. That’s why this conference is so important, to help establish more of a link for servicemen and women when they come out of the army. I hope that more people in the NHS will recognise the challenges that veterans face, and work with them more closely.” 

Lieutenant Colonel Stewart Hill added: “Understanding the experiences and challenges that veterans face can help clinicians to deliver care and support that best fits the needs of those who have served. Addressing health needs can be fundamental to enabling a person to address some of the other challenges they may face including housing, relationships, employments and finance.”

Armed forces veterans and serving personnel wishing to attend the free conference to share their experiences and ideas must book their place in advance. Please call Helen Raisbeck on 0300 123 0542 or emailing dhcft.veterans@nhs.net