Sheffield report reveals recommendation to mental health services for veterans

Sheffield report reveals recommendation to mental health services for veterans

Mental health services for armed forces veterans suffering from a variety of mental health conditions should be staffed by people with knowledge and understanding of the Armed Forces, a University of Sheffield report has recommended.

The report outlines the results of a study of six pilot sites, which were launched by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in collaboration with the UK´s Health Departments in a bid to develop culturally aware, community-based services led by the NHS, which veterans are comfortable to access and use.

Experts at the University´s Centre for Psychological Services Research, led by Professor Michael Barkham, evaluated and compared the results of the pilot studies, which each trialled new ways of providing mental health services to veterans. The new methods allowed veterans to self –refer, focused on accurate assessment and diagnosis and provided access to a choice of mental health interventions, including mainstream local NHS treatments, more specialist NHS treatment and support from specialist organisations such as Combat Stress.

Another important feature of the pilots was the development of a complementary network from a variety of statutory and third sector organisations, which provided veterans with wider social support and advice on housing, employment, training, volunteering, debt and benefits.

The findings showed that while the NHS can and does successfully engage with and treat veterans with mental health problems if services are configured with their needs in mind, it would be beneficial for veterans to be able to self-refer themselves to a service. In addition, it was highlighted that veterans prefer dealing with staff that have training and experience of working with ex-service personnel, due to the perception that civilian health professionals have little understanding of military lifestyle and challenges.

The report, which was compiled using data from clients seen during the pilots, information from audits and annual reports, and interview findings from lead clinicians and managers, also discovered that there should be clear, quick pathways from assessment to treatment.

The report makes a number of recommendations, including that mental health services for veterans should allow self-referral , provide both assessment and treatment and should be staffed by people with experience of working with veterans and knowledge of the culture of the Armed Forces. It is also important that mental health services are complemented by wider support delivered by a variety of agencies and that veterans are provided with greater opportunities for group interaction. Finally, in order to provide robust assessments that are based on a full client history, including any previous treatments, it was recommended that service records of veterans should be accessed routinely.

It is hoped that by highlighting the most effective ways to engage veterans with the local mental health services available to them, the report may now help inform future service planning by the NHS.

Dr Kim Dent-Brown, one of the researchers on the study, said: "The Sheffield team was very pleased to undertake this work on such an important topic. The services we studied were small and modestly funded, but staffed by highly dedicated, skilled and experienced staff who co-operated with our study while often single-handedly running their services. We hope their example can be a source of learning for similar services across the NHS."

Andrew Robathan, Minister for Defence Personnel,Welfare and Veterans, said: "The Government is committed to providing effective, through-life, health services for our service and ex-service personnel. This report, which my Department commissioned, identifies key components of successful services and makes a number of recommendations. The Department of Health will consider the Report and examine how its recommendations fit with existing and planned enhancements to NHS veterans mental health."