Dr David Crichton: Our ongoing commitment to improve the health of our troops and war veterans

It’s fair to say that in Doncaster we are committed to supporting those that currently work in or have served in the armed forces. As a place, Doncaster continues to be a popular recruiting ground for the forces and, in addition to serving personnel, has thousands of ex-servicemen and women living in the borough, many of whom have on-going health issues.

Andy Martin and Dr David Crichton

I was born in Germany, the son of a soldier. We moved around a lot when I was a child but I was mainly brought up in military bases in Germany, Cyprus and the UK.

In my younger years, the Army supported my medical education through university and I proudly served as a medical officer for the Parachute Regiment for several years after qualifying as a doctor.

For the last 18 years I have worked as a GP at Bentley Surgery and in 2016 was elected as the Chair of Doncaster Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG). Over the years, we have seen the huge impact that serving in the armed forces can have on both physical and mental health and as a GP, I regularly see and can relate to their experiences.

As part of this week’s focus on the services and support in Doncaster for those that are or have serviced in the armed forces, I am pleased to share a couple of examples of work that we have supported over the last 12 months and some areas of opportunity that lie ahead.

Since 2016, Andy Martin has represented the views and experiences of thousands of people in Doncaster that have served or continue to service in the armed forces. He has spent several years volunteering as a veterans’ welfare case worker, calling on his experiences since leaving the military and having a spinal operation 10 years ago.

Andy continues to bring useful insight into how local health services can be accessed by veterans and as an active Health Ambassador in Doncaster, he, along with others, act as a ‘critical friend’ to health and care organisations, sharing views on organisational activities, associated with the delivery of their strategic plans.

A couple of weeks ago, a number of Health Ambassadors shared their thoughts and views on our intentions to jointly provide health and care services with Doncaster Council. This early engagement with patients, members of the public, community and voluntary groups is vital and like Andy, health ambassadors have been able to ensure the views and voice of hard to reach groups and the seldom heard will be included in the strategy published in the Spring.

All GPs in Doncaster have access to a number of resources and tools from the Royal College of General Practitioners, one of which is a repository of information supporting GPs to ensure that veterans’ health care needs are addressed. In addition, a number of GP practices in Doncaster are working hard to become veteran friendly and I am pleased that Oakwood Surgery in Doncaster has already obtained this accreditation.

Rotherham, Doncaster and South Humber NHS Foundation Trust offer a wide range of services and support for our local military and veteran communities. Improving access to psychological therapies provides support with common mental health problems and can be done on a one to one basis or via structured courses that run regularly. Individuals can be referred for treatment by their local GP or they can self-refer.

Last month, I was also pleased to see that Doncaster and Bassetlaw Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust became the latest NHS trust in Yorkshire and the Humber to publicly pledge its commitment to Britain’s armed forces. This means that Trust promises to support the military community and ensure that those who serve or who have served in the armed forces, and their families, are treated fairly.

In the next 12 months, as a CCG and on behalf of the NHS in Doncaster, we will continue to ensure that we address the mental and physical health of our military community.

At the last Doncaster Health and Wellbeing Board in January, a new plan was approved that will ensure all adults in Doncaster have access to the mental health support they need. The Better Mental Health (Adult) – Doncaster Improvement Plan 2018-2021 bring together a number of practical actions to improve mental health service delivery across Doncaster, in the context of the national Five Year Forward View for Mental Health, the Crisis Care Concordat, and the Prevention Concordat for Better Mental Health. A strong focus on mental health improvement and investment is also included in the newly published NHS Long Term Plan.

In constructing the Better Mental Health (Adult) plan it was recognised that a wide set of strategies are relevant and interconnected. The plan does not seek to restate those strategies but does include a number of actions related to improving adult mental health across Doncaster, recognising the importance of the Armed Forces and Veteran Covenant.

There are already significant local, regional and national resources to support Mental Health prevention, support and treatment for our military and veteran communities. The expectation is to move all health and care services in Doncaster towards recognition and commitment to the Veteran Friendly status and fully utilise these wider specialist services.

So as you can see, we have a clear collective commitment to supporting and improving the health and wellbeing of our military and veteran communities and this will continue to be one of our local priorities.

Follow this weeks activity and awareness raising on Twitter, using the hashtag – #doncasterarmedforces.