In his latest report, The Scottish Veterans Commissioner has called for a return to the days of more attention, ambition and innovation in meeting the long-term health and social care needs of Scotland’s veterans’ community…

While Eric Fraser acknowledges that there is much to be proud of in the provision of treatment and support to veterans by statutory and charity bodies, he has concluded that there is a need for rekindled national leadership and for consistent, long-term funding to protect specialist services for the lifetime of veterans.

The Scottish Veterans Commissioner, Eric Fraser, commented: “The impressive work at the start of this decade in establishing ‘specialist’ physical and mental health services for veterans in Scotland has had a significant impact over subsequent years and has rightly attracted considerable attention and praise. We still see the benefits of this today.

“However, there are still a significant number of men and women in our communities who struggle with injuries and conditions caused or exacerbated by their military service. I have concluded that the levels of ambition and innovation which characterised work in support of veterans has waned in recent years.

“This may be partly understandable given the pressures on the health system, but it is also disappointing that the health of veterans no longer attracts the same level of attention it once did. I am determined to see this trend checked and a renewed investment in long-term planning.”

In his report, Eric Fraser sets out ‘A Distinctive Scottish Approach’ to veterans’ health and wellbeing, with 18 recommendations that he hopes the Scottish Government, NHS and their partners will adopt.

Amongst them he calls for the establishment of a National Clinical Network on veterans’ health to address issues such as funding, access and planning, an Action Plan to secure the long-term delivery of dedicated mental health services, and the identifying of veterans as a distinct group within the healthcare system in order to redress health inequalities that some face as a result of military service.

He also calls for the membership and remit of The Armed Forces and Veterans Health Joint Group to be refreshed in order to provide the strategic leadership needed, and reinvigorating senior participation in cross-border networks to improve information sharing and collaborative working across the UK and beyond.

He argues that ‘priority treatment’ for veterans, as laid out in the Armed Forces Covenant is “a largely meaningless concept” as care within the NHS is based on clinical need and not on the background, occupation or category of a patient. He believes focus instead should be on the principles of excellence, accessible and sustainable treatment for all veterans.

The report also acknowledges the need to identify veterans as such within the healthcare system and that their distinct needs are understood and met.

Eric Fraser added: “The current confusion about what priority treatment means and its impact serves nobody well, especially if it results in unrealistic expectations which cannot be matched. It is clear to me that the time is right for a fresh and bolder vision, which will be especially important for those with the most severe and enduring injuries and conditions.

“Within the report I set out the guiding principles of what I would like to see. Included in this is veterans being confident that support – across the entire health and social care sector – is available whenever required and for the rest of their lives.”

It is estimated that there are around a quarter of a million veterans currently living in Scotland.