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Study Shows Free Veteran-Friendly GP Practices Scheme Leads to More Effective Care

The Royal College of GPs and NHS England are encouraging GP practices to become ‘Veteran-Friendly Accredited’ after a new evaluation by the University of Chester revealed that it leads to better healthcare for veterans and is recommended by 99% of practice staff.

The study follows a warning from a mental health charity for veterans that media coverage surrounding the invasion of Ukraine could ‘re-traumatise’ some veterans and trigger difficult thoughts and feelings.

Dr (Colonel Retired) Jonathan Leach OBE, NHS England Associate Medical Director for Armed Forces and Veterans Health, said: “The need for veteran-friendly GP practices, which provide the best possible care and treatment for patients who have served in the Armed Forces, is even more pressing with reports that media coverage of Ukraine can trigger mental health issues amongst veterans.

“Accreditation to the scheme, which is voluntary and includes having a clinical lead for veterans in the surgery, is part of our commitments in the NHS Long Term Plan to ensure all GPs in England are equipped to best serve our veterans and their families.”

It is thought that around 12% of veterans experience probable PTSD and more than half (52%) may have a long-term illness, disability, or infirmity, yet studies suggest that veterans are less likely to seek help if they feel their healthcare professional might not understand

Data from the University of Chester’s study of 225 accredited practices revealed that 84% now have a better understanding of how to meet veterans’ health needs and 72% believed that the programme had already benefited their veteran patients. Some practices reported an increase in veteran registrations since becoming accredited and 99% of practices said they would recommend the accreditation scheme to others.

General Practice implementation

More than 1,300 GP practices have already signed up to the Veteran-Friendly Accreditation Scheme, which is designed with busy practice teams in mind and includes an easy process for coding veteran patients as well as access to information on how to support and refer veterans to specialist services.

Lisa Fall, Practice Manager at Altriu Health Centre, said “Becoming Veteran Friendly Accredited was a straightforward process for the surgery and has benefited our veteran patients enormously. As they are now coded, we’re able to highlight these patients to our clinicians, so that they can have a better understanding of any additional treatment or support they may need. Patients feel supported and are impressed that we are accredited, so much so that we have people specifically mention accredited status as being a reason they joined our surgery. I would encourage every practice to sign up.”

Dr (Brigadier Retired) Robin Simpson, RCGP Clinical Champion for Veterans, said: “With the situation in Ukraine increasing the need some veterans will have for support and the Government’s new Veterans Strategy Action Plan⁴ committing to making the UK ‘the best place in the world to be a veteran’ by 2028, there has never been a more important time for practices to become Veteran Friendly Accredited. 

“On average, most practices will see a veteran patient every day, and this free and quick-to-implement programme is set up to make it easier to identify, understand, support, and refer any patients that might be struggling at this challenging time. We know that the impact of service is not always obvious and that’s why it’s so important to have a proven process that makes it easier for veterans to access help. This scheme gives clinicians the opportunity and support to lead their practice in an area that has been identified as a national priority - and this evaluation clearly demonstrates the scheme's effectiveness.”

Principle Investigator for the evaluation was Professor Alan Finnegan, Professor of Nursing and Military Mental Health at the University of Chester, said: “This independent evaluation has demonstrated very encouraging results for the GP Veteran Friendly Accredited Practices Programme, with many positive outcomes. It was very clear from the results and our conversations that veterans appear to receive better healthcare when GPs, nurses and other primary healthcare staff understand their needs. We found that the programme, which leads to improved knowledge of veteran-specific secondary and tertiary services and of the priority referral pathway, is beneficial to veterans and their families.”

The evaluation report included comments from a number of clinicians from practices that have been accredited. 

A clinician from one practice that took part in the evaluation commented: “When we first got registered and told the staff what we were doing, there was huge support from the staff, particularly the admin team. They were really positive and quite a few of them have got spouses who are ex-military or children in the military so they’re right behind it. It has raised the profile of military awareness. We have a real sense of pride in the staff which wasn’t there before, from supporting the military.” 

Another said: “As a practice, we are now more aware of the specific issues that involve patients who are veterans so I think that makes us more responsive to their needs.”

About the RCGPs Veteran-Friendly Practice Accreditation Programme
  • The Veteran-Friendly GP Practice accreditation scheme supports practices to deliver the best possible care and treatment for patients who have served in the Armed Forces.
  • The scheme helps GP practices to identify, code and support their veteran patients, which is important as the healthcare needs of veterans can be different to the general population.
  • Accredited practices appoint a clinical lead who receives training and support, and receives an information pack to help increase their understanding of the health needs of veterans, and the services available to them.
  • Accreditation is voluntary and fulfils key commitments of the NHS Long Term Plan: ‘To ensure all GPs in England are equipped to best serve our veterans and their families.’ 
  • The accreditation scheme has been developed by RCGP in partnership with NHS England and NHS Improvement.
  • Over 1,300 GP practices are now accredited through the programme. 
Support for veterans struggling with their mental health

Op COURAGE: The Veterans Mental Health and Wellbeing Service provides dedicated mental health care and support to service leavers, reservists, veterans and their families.

Individuals can contact the service to make an appointment or ask someone to do this on their behalf.  It doesn’t matter how long ago someone left the Armed Forces, help is available.  For more information, visit www.nhs.uk/opcourage

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