Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Nurse plan to tackle troop suicides

Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox has announced extra medical support for British veterans

Additional dedicated nurses for troops and veterans with mental health problems and a 24-hour helpline are to be introduced to tackle the "national scandal" of post-conflict suicides, Liam Fox has announced.

The measures are among wide-ranging reforms called for in a review of support for ex-armed forces personnel carried out by Conservative MP and Iraq war veteran Andrew Murrison, which will be published on Wednesday.

Ministers are expected to accept all his recommendations but the introduction of 30 nurses and the free telephone counselling are to be introduced immediately, Defence Secretary Dr Fox will tell the Conservative Party conference.

Officials said the report by Mr Murrison - who is a serving Royal Navy reserve - includes calls for better health screening and new networks of voluntary support among a raft of recommendations.

Providing enough dedicated nurses for there to be one between every two mental health trusts will cost £1.5 million a year and the helpline less than £500 a year by using an existing service, they indicated.

Mr Murrison's report was commissioned by Prime Minister David Cameron after research showed one in four Iraq veterans suffered mental health disorders and one in 20 had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Combat Stress - a charity which deals with veterans' mental health issues - received 1,250 new referrals in the last year, up two thirds since 2005 but still suspected to be a fraction of the true number of cases, Government officials said.

Dr Fox made clear on Tuesday that tackling mental health issues - notably those suffered by reservists - would be a high priority despite severe budget cuts to the armed forces.

Addressing a conference fringe meeting, he said: "In my book, the unacceptably high level of suicide among our veterans is a matter of national shame and it does take priority over any investment in other welfare issues I am looking at."

He went on: "There is a very valuable role in connecting the armed forces with broader society that is fulfilled by the footprint of the reserve forces. I have one particular concern, however, about them and that is the way in which they receive support when they come home from operations, particularly when it comes to those who suffer mental trauma as a result of warfare.

"If you are coming home with the regulars and you are with your comrades who have been through what you've been through, you at least have people to talk to who understand the problem. In the TA you could be in Helmand being shot at by the Taliban one week and be the milkman in Dorset on your own the next - isolated and without that level of comfort and support."

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