Helping our heroes: NHS urges veterans to get help despite coronavirus outbreak

As the nation gears up mark to the 75th anniversary of VE Day, the NHS wants all those who have served their country to know that dedicated help and support is still available despite the coronavirus outbreak.

One of its top doctors has also today payed tribute to the many veterans who are working as ‘hidden heroes’ in the NHS’s efforts to tackle the virus.

To date the world-leading services have improved the lives of thousands of former services personnel supporting their physical and mental health needs for those who struggle with civilian life, some of whose stories are set out below.

While a growing number of veterans have been referred for help year-on-year, latest data indicates a drop in the number of people reaching out to specialist services in April.

But despite the coronavirus outbreak help is still available and has been adapted to offer more digital services, including video consultations with psychotherapists and support by phone, in response to social distancing rules and travel restrictions in place.

The NHS lead for armed forces’ health has today issued a timely call urging veterans to seek help as dedicated services remain open for business.

Kate Davies CBE, Director of Armed Forces at NHS England and NHS Improvement, said: “This weekend’s VE Day commemorations are a reminder of the remarkable difference our armed forces have made to our country throughout history and the contribution they continue to make today on the NHS frontline in the fight against coronavirus.

“At a time when we are facing significant uncertainty and long periods of isolation which can be particularly worrying, it has never been more important for veterans to reach out if they need support– help is available – with new digital offers which ex-personnel are already benefiting from.”

The NHS is committed to making sure that every veteran gets the best possible support for their physical and mental health with dedicated services available for those who struggle with civilian life including targeted mental health services for veterans.

These include the NHS Veterans’ Mental Health Transition, Intervention and Liaison Service (TILS), which identifies and treats mental health needs early, and the NHS Veterans’ Mental Health Complex Treatment Service (CTS), which gives intensive support to those with military-related complex mental health concerns not improved by earlier care and treatment.

Since the TILS service was launched in April 2017 it has had over 11,000 referrals up to May 2020, while there have been almost 1,500 CTS referrals in total up to April 2020.

Both offer local community-based support ranging from therapeutic treatment for complex challenges or trauma, to help meeting wider needs that can have an impact on mental health, such as physical health, employment, housing, finances, social relationships and drug and alcohol misuse.

Case studies: veterans who have benefitted from NHS support

Paul Radcliffe, 42 – based in St Helens

Paul says: “My new fight against COVID-19 is to support the outstanding front-line staff in fighting the invisible cowardly enemy that is this virus. I’ve been working to ensure that patient information and health records from GP practices and hospitals is stored correctly and that patients can get the appointments and treatments they need. I’m currently seconded to an IT service desk and am working to support NHS staff at that Trust in being effective in their roles, whether that be through training or the use of iPads on the wards.”

Role within the military: Paul joined the Army within the Parachute Regiment. In his latter years he worked at the Defence Survival Training Organisation (DSTO) teaching survival training to all three services of the British military.

Jim Knowles, 61 – based in St Helens

Jim says: “I work in the Health Work and Well-Being team and we are the team that care for our carers. This is vital in keeping people well and in work or helping them back to work following ill health. During the coronavirus outbreak, I have been supporting people who are absent from work due to stress or anxiety. The support I provide is done over the phone, and part of what I do is to signpost and refer people on to other appropriate support services.

Role within the military: Caterer and Petty Officer in the Royal Navy