NHS services have agreed they need to do more to improve healthcare for Hertfordshire’s veterans

Healthwatch Hertfordshire Improving Healthcare Access for Veterans Report showed veterans may be missing out on specialilsed and priority care available

Friday, 26th March 2021, 11:01 am
Updated Friday, 26th March 2021, 11:02 am
Local NHS services are improving healthcare for Hertfordshire veterans

NHS services have agreed they need to do more to help identify and assist Hertfordshire veterans who may be missing out on specialised healthcare and priority services, due to poor communication and systems.

The new Healthwatch Hertfordshire Improving Healthcare Access for Veterans Report showed that even though veterans should be identified on NHS systems and often entitled to priority care, many providers and ex-forces personnel themselves were unaware of this.

Healthwatch Hertfordshire Chair Steve Palmer said: “Our research found that the majority of NHS services do not identify or record veterans, meaning there is an onus on veterans to self-

identify and disclose their military service, but they are often reluctant, or not aware of the importance of sharing this information.

“Where NHS services do identify and record veterans, the sharing of this information across NHS services is often fragmented, affecting veterans’ access to priority treatment and specialist support. We need to improve communication across services and ensure consistency.”

Local NHS services have responded to the report, stating they are keen to make improvements such as introducing training and awareness programmes to help clinicians better support patients who are ex-forces personnel.

The Health Subgroup of the Hertfordshire Armed Forces Covenant Board – known as Hertfordshire Heroes - asked Healthwatch Hertfordshire to investigate the healthcare needs and experiences of local veterans and recommend areas for future projects.

The engagement ran from June to December 2020 and 87 veterans completed an online survey.

Seven veterans also took part in an online focus group and one-to-one in-depth interviews and eight local NHS organisations were interviewed.

The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) is working with the NHS to accredit GP practices as “Veteran Friendly”, with the aim of improving NHS care for veterans.

Only eight out of 140 GP practices in Hertfordshire are currently accredited. The NHS is also working to accredit Hospital Trusts as “Veteran Aware” to improve standards of care for ex-forces personnel.

This work is in line with national changes to better recognise and meet the needs of veterans, such as a new question in this year’s Census to allow former Armed Forces personnel to identify themselves as veterans for the first time ever.

Innovations such as this will help central and local governments better plan and understand the needs of their veteran communities.

Steve added: “It also needs to be remembered that some members of the armed forces find the transition into civilian life quite challenging and many of our survey respondents said information detailing the specific healthcare services available to veterans would have encouraged them to access this support."

Director of Integrated Specialist Care NHS and Chair of the Hertfordshire Armed Forces Covenant Board Health Subgroup Harper Brown said: “This report will play a key part in helping us focus our main priorities for 2021/2022 which aim to ensure that veterans are actively supported and face no disadvantage when accessing healthcare in Hertfordshire.”