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Nurses in primary care settings key to improving veterans’ care

General practice nurses (GPNs) are being urged to do more to ensure that the 1.74 million armed forces veterans living in England are receiving the physical and mental health care that they need.

A recent survey of nearly 5,000 armed forces veterans, carried out by the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) in February, found that more than half have experienced a mental or physical health issue potentially related to their experience in service since leaving the armed forces.

“I feel immensely proud to lead my practice team in delivering the very best care and support to veterans”

Debbie Peach

Of these, four out of five of these said that their condition had deteriorated since leaving the service.

However, one in seven veterans surveyed said they had not visited a healthcare practitioner to ask for help with issues stemming from their time in the military.

The most common reasons for this were that they “prefer to manage their issues on their own”, which was reported by 30%, and because they believed a civilian health professional “won’t understand their experiences”, which was cited by 15%.

However, almost two-thirds of veterans surveyed said they would be more likely to seek healthcare 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.

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Practices that sign up to this scheme receive help identifying, understanding and supporting veteran patients, and, where appropriate, referring them to specialist physical and mental healthcare services designed especially for veterans.

These include Op COURAGE, which provides specialist mental health care, and Op RESTORE, which provides care and treatment for veterans with ongoing physical injuries and health problems attributable to their time in military service.

In addition to ensuring that their practice is signed up for the accreditation scheme, GPNs can provide further help for veterans by taking on the role of veteran lead for their practice.

Advanced nurse practitioner and Queen’s Nurse, Debbie Peach, said that, as a veteran herself, she felt “immensely proud” of her work as veteran lead at Hartington Surgery in Derbyshire.

Debbie Peach

Debbie Peach

“As someone who has served in the armed forces and is a champion for the Veteran Friendly Accreditation scheme, I feel immensely proud to lead my practice team in delivering the very best care and support to veterans in our community,” she said.

“In addition to helping us to improve health outcomes for our veteran patients, the scheme has provided our team with the confidence, knowledge and access to a wealth of veteran friendly resources,” she said.

She added: “Given the data indicating that veterans are more inclined to seek help if they know their practice is veteran friendly accredited, I would encourage all of my nursing colleagues to sign their practices up to this free scheme.

“The process is quick and easy, yet the impact it can have is profound and long-lasting,” Ms Peach said.

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