I have produced this paper in the hope of stimulating interest and debate around the issues of veterans' health and wellbeing in Scotland. It deliberately does not include recommendations at this stage but it 'sets the scene' and I hope illustrates an appropriate level of ambition for the treatment and care of Scotland's ex-Service community.
The points raised are the result of an extensive period of engagement with a wide range of stakeholders, mainly in Scotland but also from other parts of the UK. Many of the issues will lead to further investigation but these initial studies have already led me to conclude that:
- The vast majority of veterans in Scotland are in relatively good health and lead happy and productive lives.
- On those occasions when they need access to health or social care services, they rarely report obvious disadvantage when compared to the non-veterans population and are content with the support they receive.
- There remains a strong moral case for ensuring that the risks faced, and the sacrifices made, by Service personnel in protecting us are properly recognised and that all those who suffer injury or illness as a result are cared for appropriately. The Armed Forces Covenant and the Scottish Government's Renewing Our Commitments are central to ensuring this happens.
- Veterans and family members with the most severe and enduring illnesses and conditions that have arisen from their military service deserve the best possible treatment, care and support. This should be our highest priority.
- Scotland is fortunate to have some outstanding statutory and charitable services that provide much needed specialist treatment, care and support for the small number of veterans who have given so much and suffer the most serious and life-changing illnesses and/or injuries.
- The provision of these specialist services and the principles of the covenant must be protected for both current and future generations of veterans. Decision-makers must also plan strategically to prepare for the longer-term needs of this community, including for current service users as they grow older.
- For the wider veterans community, there is still more that can be done to improve their overall health outcomes. Much of this is likely to involve relatively minor administrative and procedural changes, greater emphasis on prevention and better understanding of veterans and their needs. This is also likely to be in line with the overall approach taken by the NHS in Scotland.
- Perhaps more controversially, there needs to be an open debate about the concept of 'priority treatment' and whether the current emphasis on waiting lists provides a meaningful measurement of its efficacy. My growing conviction is that this may no longer be valid and I see far greater benefit from focusing on the principles of excellent, accessible and sustainable treatment and care for all veterans. I want to be clear that in concluding this, I am absolutely not advocating any lessening of the provision for veterans; in fact, quite the contrary.
Subject to the responses I receive to this paper, I will follow it up with two detailed reports over the coming months. The first will look more closely at that mercifully small group of veterans who have suffered life-changing injuries or illnesses as a result of their military service and will need life-long support. The second paper will examine the broader health needs of the veterans community, focussing on improving overall health outcomes and access to services for the wider population of veterans. These reports will contain recommendations to the Scottish Government and its partners across the health and veterans sectors.
I urge anyone with an interest in, or ideas about, the treatment, care and support that is provided to the veterans community to get in touch with your feedback and/or suggestions. I would particularly appreciate hearing examples of what works well, as I am keen to feature 'good practice' in the next two reports. It is also important that I hear from anyone who has examples of what doesn't work so well and has ideas for how to make improvements.
Email: James Newman, email@example.com
Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit
The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House