Westminster Column - Mental Health Services and the Armed Forces

11th August 2017

I am very pleased that mental health care has improved so dramatically over the past few years. There has been more investment in mental health and an estimated 1,400 more people access mental health services every day compared to 2010 - up 40 per cent, as well as around 750,000 more people accessing talking therapies since 2009/10.

But there is more we can do, particularly in rural areas, so I welcome last week's announcement there will be a 21,000 increase in the number of mental health posts in the NHS by 2021. This is an ambitious plan, and vital for integrating mental and physical health treatment.

Earlier this week I confirmed a 25% increase in doctors in training over the next three years, including in psychiatry. It was also encouraging to see my colleagues in Defence announce a new innovative six year strategy to improve the mental health and wellbeing of the Armed Forces, their families, veterans, and Defence civilians.

As a former Defence Minister myself, and now Health Minister, I am always looking for ways these two departments can better work together to help those who serve our country. Undoubtedly there is now a better understanding of the impact of putting people in harm's way, and the unique experiences that service personnel may be asked to face. So it is vital our approach to mental health recognises these pressures and reflects the sacrifices that many individuals give for the security of our country.

The aim is to introduce standardised mental health and wellbeing training for serving personnel, with investment in research to ensure personnel are as mentally fit as they can be - helping proactively to reduce the incidence and severity of depression and anxiety, particularly for combat troops and medical personnel. The strategy also includes periods of 'decompression' for service personnel after combat operations and new training for NHS GPs on veteran health issues.

This is welcome news for service personnel, veterans, and their families - both in Shropshire and across the UK. Shropshire is already playing an invaluable role in helping with recovery and return to service, through the Battle Back Centre in Lilleshall, which is a joint venture between the MOD and the Royal British Legion. I visited the Centre earlier this year, and was very impressed by the work they have undertaken to help over 4,500 personnel since it opened in 2011.

I am acutely aware of the need to improve access to mental health therapies in Shropshire, and I hope these measures will bring positive improvements for our communities, both civilian and military, over the next few years.

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