Initiative launches to help thousands of veterans in the East of England

Initiative launches to help thousands of veterans in the East of England

A new initiative has been launched today (Monday 25th March) to improve veterans’ access to healthcare services, after new data found that thousands of former armed services personnel in the East of England may be silently struggling with their health.

The initiative, launched by the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) in conjunction with NHS England and the Office for Veterans’ Affairs (OVA), aims to encourage more GP practices in the East of England to sign-up to become ‘Veteran Friendly’. It is part of a wider government campaign to encourage veterans to seek help and let their GP practice know they’ve served, and raise awareness of the support available to them.

The newly-commissioned study of nearly 5,000* veterans in England found that almost half (49%) of respondents based in the East of England have experienced a mental or physical health issue potentially related to their service since leaving the armed forces – with more than four in five of those (84%) stating that their condition had deteriorated during this time.

Despite this, one in seven (14%) of those veterans based in the East of England who have experienced service-related issues after leaving the armed forces have not sought help from a healthcare professional. The most common reasons given nationally for not seeking help were that they ‘prefer to manage their issues on their own’ (30%) and believe a civilian health professional ‘won’t understand their experiences’ (15%).

However, the findings showed that nearly two-thirds of veterans (65%) would be more likely to seek help for any issues they might experience if they knew their GP practice was signed up to the Veteran Friendly Accreditation scheme, which was launched by the RCGP and NHS England in 2018. The free support programme helps practices to deliver the best possible care and treatment for patients who have served in the UK armed forces.

As part of this new initiative, the RCGP is therefore encouraging more practices in the East of England to take the quick and simple step of signing up to the programme, which provides busy practice teams with a simple process for identifying, understanding and supporting veterans and, where appropriate, referring them to dedicated veterans physical and mental health and wellbeing services, such as Op COURAGE: The Veterans Mental Health and Wellbeing Service and Op RESTORE: The Veterans Physical Health and Wellbeing Service.

To date, 393 of the 651GP practices in the East of England are accredited, while just over 3,000*** of the 6,313 GP practices in England are signed up to the programme are accredited, while at a national level. An evaluation of the scheme by the University of Chester revealed that 99% of accredited practices recommend it – with the findings showing the most valued benefits of signing up are the simple process for identifying veterans, clear referral pathways to specialist NHS veteran healthcare services and faster access to dedicated support1.

Latest data suggests there are nearly 194,000 veterans – defined as anyone who has served a day or more in the armed forces – in the East of England and 1.74m living in England2 – with research showing that they may have unique health needs as a result of their service. Common health issues can include musculoskeletal (MSK) disorders3, pain3, mental health problems4, drug and alcohol misuse5, adjustment disorders5 and hearing issues6. However, while the average GP practice sees a veteran patient every day, almost half (47%) of practices may be unaware of how many of their patients are veterans5.

One example of a former member of the UK armed forces who has benefitted from being able to access the right support after sharing his service with his Veteran Friendly Accredited practice is Army veteran Paul Findlay, from Essex. He said:

“While on deployment in Afghanistan in 2009, the vehicle I was traveling in suffered an IED strike, and I sustained severe injuries to my right leg that ultimately led to me being medically discharged from the army. Fast-forward ten or so years and while I was physically in good health, my mental health started to take a turn for the worse and I knew I needed to seek help.

“Luckily, I’d already let my Veteran Friendly Accredited practice know that I’d served and I can honestly say that the care and support I received from them was second to none. They understood my experiences and issues and, thanks to their knowledge of the specialist health services that exist for veterans, were able to quickly refer me to the right support to help me to improve my mental health.

“Given the data indicating that veterans are more inclined to seek help if they know their practice is Veteran Friendly Accredited, I’d encourage all practices to sign-up to the free scheme. The process is quick and easy, yet the impact it can have is profound and long-lasting.

“Equally, I’d urge all fellow veterans to tell their practice about their service. It takes seconds but sharing this important information will help to ensure they’re able to access the very best care and support, in exactly the same way that I was.”

Veterans can find out more about the support they can receive by telling their GP practice they have served and by visiting


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