There are approximately 2.2 million service veterans in England and, while their healthcare needs can be quite different from those of other patients, research suggests that around half of GP practices don’t know how many veterans they have on their list – simply because they aren’t aware of how to capture this information. This is significant, as studies suggest veterans may be less likely to seek help if they feel others won’t understand their circumstances and background.
The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) is reminding primary care teams of the benefits of the Veteran Friendly GP Practice accreditation scheme. The scheme, which has already accredited nearly 1,100 practices, ensures practices have the information and resources to identify and support their veteran patients effectively.
Being accredited as a Veteran Friendly GP practice is a good way for practices to signal to ex-forces patients that they will be given the support they need. Accredited practices receive information, training and support to help increase their understanding of the health needs of veterans, and the services available to them – 99% of accredited practices say they would recommend the scheme to others.
The Armed Forces Covenant
The Armed Forces Covenant is a promise by the nation that those who serve and have served, and their families, should be treated fairly and by healthcare professionals that understand the Armed Forces culture. This includes ensuring veterans receive priority treatment for a condition that relates to their service, subject to clinical need. By taking part in the scheme and appointing a specially-trained clinical lead for veteran healthcare, GP practices can support this.
Brigadier Robin Simpson, an NHS GP and RCGP Clinical Champion for Veterans Healthcare, said: “We know that veterans don’t tend to tell healthcare professionals they are veterans unless you ask them. It is critical then that we ask our patients, ‘have you served in the UK Armed Forces?’, to ensure we can accurately diagnose any health conditions and where appropriate, refer them to specialist services and treatment pathways. This is important in ensuring they feel supported for their service. The process for becoming Veteran Friendly accredited is quick and simple and sends a really powerful message to your veteran patients that you understand. That will make such a difference to them – take it from me.”
Veteran, Ashlee Manning, who now works as a Social Prescriber and GP Link worker, added: “As a veteran, I found re-adjusting into civilian life difficult. Having your service acknowledged and that context informing how you are treated by your GP practice, can make such a difference in finding your feet in civilian life. I’d urge GP practices to sign-up – the benefits to your patients and practice will be significant.”
GP practices can find out more and complete a simple sign-up form at: http://rcgp.org.uk/veterans
To find out more about the Armed Forces Covenant, click here.
- BMJ Military Health. UK military veteran-friendly GP practices. 2021
- BMJ Military Health. The General Practitioner and the military veteran. 2015
- Ministry of Defence. The Armed Forces Covenant.
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 receive 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 1,000 GP practices are now accredited through the programme.