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Improving mental health support by making veterans’ voices heard


When Healthwatch Norfolk spoke to local veterans about their experiences of mental health services, they discovered a number of ways in which support could be improved for them.

Veteran speaking to doctor

Most men and women who have served in the British Armed Forces leave the military fit and healthy. However, a significant minority of veterans are currently living with a mental health condition and not much is known about how they would like to access care and support.

The Healthwatch network exists to help make health and social care work for everyone. We speak to people from all walks of life to help ensure that services meet everybody’s needs.

For its Veterans Project, Healthwatch Norfolk worked in partnership with more than 100 organisations to run an extensive campaign to encourage veterans to share their experiences of using mental health services in Norfolk and Suffolk. Thirty veterans and families volunteered to be interviewed and Healthwatch Norfolk shared their experiences in a 200 page report.

By sharing their stories with Healthwatch Norfolk, these veterans and families helped to shine a light on the needs of the local Armed Forces community, giving a voice to their comrades who were unable to speak up for themselves. Healthwatch Norfolk has since worked with NHS England to develop four brand new mental health services for veterans across the country, winning an NHS England ‘Celebrating Participation in Healthcare’ Grant in 2016. In addition, it has worked with Health Education England and the Royal Army Medical Corps to provide veteran specific training for hundreds of GP students across the East of England.

For further information, please visit www.healthwatchnorfolk.co.uk, where you can read Healthwatch Norfolk’s published findings or watch an animated video, produced with local veterans to help share their stories.

Alex Stewart, Healthwatch Norfolk CEO said: “The Healthwatch Norfolk Veterans Project was all about patient and public involvement. Over the last two years, local veterans and families have helped us to transform services for veterans across the country and we are delighted that our work has received national recognition. We feel that our collective achievements really demonstrate the value of taking proper care to listen to the voices of under-represented communities.”

A veteran from the Royal Navy, who participated in this study, said: “Thank you so very much for [speaking to me] today, I found it very insightful and valuable the work that you are doing and I hope that it proves fruitful for changes to the current system… It’s difficult in the time I’ve been out. You don’t feel like you serve much of a purpose, so it’s nice to feel like you’ve done something.”

Luke Woodley, Director of veterans’ charity The Walnut Tree Project, said: “The Healthwatch Norfolk review of veterans’ mental health services across Norfolk and Suffolk is without doubt the most comprehensive local study to date. It has highlighted some important shortcomings in services as well as enabling improvement by giving examples of the good work currently underway in the county. From our involvement in the project, we have taken away a great deal and implemented changes within our own organisation, with the aim of being able to deliver better services in partnership with NHS and Third Sector partners.”

Share your experience of mental health services

If you've got an experience of mental health services that you'd like to share, get in touch with your local Healthwatch. 

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