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New mental health service for armed forces veterans in crisis for the North of England

Posted: 09/11/20

A new NHS service for former armed forces personnel experiencing severe mental health problems has launched this November.

The Veterans’ Mental Health High Intensity Service (HIS) provides care and treatment for veterans who are experiencing a mental health crisis and need urgent help. It will do this by working with local mental health services that are already treating a veteran, to improve their experiences and ultimately their health and lives.

The HIS is part of a new national service being rolled out across England. In the North of England, the service is being delivered in partnership between the NHS and well-established veterans’ support charities. Together, they will work with local mental health services to provide:

  • Support to crisis care services for veterans presenting in a mental health crisis
  • Support during an inpatient unit stay – including access to a clinician advice line 24 hours a day, seven days a week
  • Care navigation – helping veterans and their carers find the local services best suited to their needs, and
  • Support and care for family members and carers where they need it.

This new service is part of the NHS Long Term Plan to expand support for all veterans and their families, helping them from their transition out of the armed forces and beyond. This includes the already-established Veterans’ Mental Health Transition, Liaison and Intervention Service (TILS) and the Veterans’ Mental Health Complex Treatment Service (CTS).

The HIS is provided by a collaborative of four expert organisations, including:

The HIS consists of clinical staff with the skills to support veterans and the local mental health services treating them when they are in crisis or admitted to an inpatient ward. This includes a team of psychologists, mental health professionals and Veteran Liaison and Support Officers – some of whom are veterans themselves.

Samantha Hannar-Hughes, Clinical Team Manager for the North of England Veterans’ Mental Health High Intensity Service, said: “We’re really excited to be launching this new service with our partners.

“We know that veterans can struggle to engage with health services, particularly mental health, and sometimes it can take years for them to seek help. This means they can present in crisis to local services that might not have experience of dealing with veterans with complex mental health problems.

“That’s where we can really help. We have an expert team of clinicians and support officers, some of whom are veterans themselves. We’ll get involved really quickly and support veterans and their families through their immediate crisis and into longer term recovery.”

We’re very pleased to be delivering this new partnership service that will improve the health and lives of former military personnel and their families.

This is an exciting and much-needed opportunity to enhance existing NHS veterans’ mental health provision. The HIS will work closely together with our existing services, alongside a range of other health and wellbeing services, to offer a complete, comprehensive and dedicated mental health care pathway for veterans. This will ensure veterans experiencing a mental health crisis get the right care and treatment, at the right time, in the right place.

John LawlorChief Executive of Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust

David Rowley, Head of Operations for Regional and Specialist Services at Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, said: “I am personally really proud about being able to provide this new service.

“We’ve developed this through a strong collaboration between the NHS, support charities and, most importantly, veterans who have experienced services first hand. It is their stories that have shaped what we offer – notably around supporting their journey through treatment, which can include their families.”

Walking With The Wounded (WWTW) Director of Operations, Fergus Williams, commented: “Although the majority of former military men and women transition successfully to civilian life, a small but significant minority struggle. Those who need support can find their care pathway complex.

“The launch of the new High Intensity Service across the North of England will enable ex-military personnel and their families to navigate NHS veterans’ services with ease. Importantly, the High Intensity Service adds value to the already existing NHS Veterans Mental Health services. Partnering with the NHS is fundamental in creating a tailored community support service model which is championed by WWTW. This is fantastic initiative which will make a significant difference to those that served.”

Mark’s story – how a former private branded a “waste of space” has recovered

This new service is being supported by veteran Mark Foster. Mark, now based in Northumberland, served as a Private in the Army’s Royal Logistic Corp (RLC) between 2008 and 2012. He has struggled with physical injury, homeless, alcohol addiction and (undiagnosed) post-traumatic distress disorder (PTSD) following the death of a close friend in the Afghanistan conflict.

Mark said: “I found out that my best mate had been killed by an improvised explosive device (IED). I contacted my mate’s mother and pregnant girlfriend and together we shared the suffering and grief. I tried my best to get on with it but in my heart I had lost interest. I started to drink heavily and to have seizures and panic attacks, but I was too scared to ask for help. When I did finally go forward and speak out, I was branded a ‘waste of space’.

“In 2012, I signed off, but no sooner had I left, I started to have regrets and I couldn’t cope with civilian life. The only way I could get through the day was to drink.

“I found reasons not to go out and caused arguments at home to avoid leaving the house. I became increasingly isolated and aggressive. My family and friends tried to help but they couldn’t, and I made them all suffer. Then I started to self-harm. I cut myself and felt a relief in the pain – to share in the pain that I inflicted on everyone around me.”

Mark was referred to various services at this point but he struggled to engage and they couldn’t help him.

“I was that desperate and frustrated with my situation, that one day I held a knife to my throat and threatened to kill myself – that was when the Police came and I they referred me to a veterans’ charity who immediately understood my situation and knew how to help. They made all the difference and put me on the road to recovery.

“Really, I needed their support earlier, right from the first signs of trouble – that understanding of the military is key to treating ex-military like me.”

Mark is now on the road to recovery and in the process of healing his relationships too.

“I nearly put my mum and dad into an early grave as they watched me destroy myself and couldn’t do anything to help. They could have done with support and some explanation about what was going on with me.

“I really want to use my experiences to help others and I’m currently studying for a career in mental health and counselling. I am back in contact with my partner, family and friends and when I am ready, I will explain to them what I have been through.”

How veterans can seek help in the first instance

The Veterans’ Mental Health High Intensity Service is a new NHS service that provides rapid and enhanced mental health support when veterans are in crisis. It works alongside existing specialist mental health services for former armed forces personnel to stop them from becoming as ill as Mark did.

If you are an armed forces veteran (with at least one day’s service), or know someone who is, and need support for mental health, substance misuse or other social issues, you can speak to your GP or contact the NHS Veterans’ Transition Intervention and Liaison Service (TILS) in the first instance on 0303 123 1145 or email vwals@nhs.net.