The general view of all participants at the VCHA Annual Best Practice Conference on Wednesday 20 September 2023, which this year took place at The Barbican in London, was that the healthcare offer for our Armed Forces community, while not perfect, continues to improve.
The conference began with a first look at an animated video, which asks staff to remember to always ask the question: “Have you, or anyone in your immediate family, ever served in the British Armed Forces?” The video was originally conceived by Jordana Wright, an Advanced Clinical Practitioner with Derbyshire Community Health Services NHS Foundation Trust. Jordana had produced the animation as part of her professional studies alongside her role as the Deputy Chair of the trusts Armed Forces Network.
Kate Davies CBE, Director of Health and Justice, Armed Forces and Sexual Assault Services Commissioning for NHS England, provided a brilliant overview about the work undertaken by NHS England in relation to the Armed Forces Community. She further explained that it was essential to ensure that programmes were sustainable and indeed target-driven, to make sure no one was left behind.
Keynote speakers included the Veterans Minister, the Rt Hon Johnny Mercer MP, as well as Col (Retd) David Richmond CBE, the Independent Veterans Advisor for the Government.
Mr Mercer thanked the National Chair of VCHA, Professor Tim Briggs CBE, for his continued hard work and also referenced Op COURAGE and Op RESTORE. He reiterated that it was critically important that while we are designing pathways, the number one access points have to be GPs or our NHS trusts.
Col Richmond said the health sector could take “considerable satisfaction” from the offer for veterans and added: “I think what the VCHA is doing is providing the framework within which you can deliver your initiatives. The support available for veterans and their families is simply unrecognisable compared to that available in 2006/07 when we were in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
He added: “I feel that the pace of change in this area has, if anything, increased and not slowed down.”
Conference attendees received a “whistle stop” tour of presentations from 18 speakers, which included the Veteran Friendly Framework care home accreditation scheme being rolled out across England. In addition, there were presentations from the military third sector (Defense Medical Welfare Service), independent sector, care homes and hospices.
VCHA Chairman, Prof Tim Briggs CBE, said that 76% of NHS trusts were now accredited as Veteran Aware and that there had been significant improvements in terms of engagement with trusts.
He spoke about the importance of data to help drive forward programmes, referring to the VCHA’s data capture pilot project, to the VCHA’s widening of scope programme and to the VCHA’s pilot Rehabilitation project.
“If we can get it right for veterans, we will see improvements across the NHS for all patients,” he said.
A recording of the event has been uploaded to the VCHA’s YouTube channel or can be viewed below.