Defence secretary Liam Fox has announced the introduction of a 24-hour helpline as well as additional dedicated nurses for troops and veterans with mental health problems to combat the “national scandal” of post-conflict suicides.
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The measures are among wide-ranging reforms demanded by Conservative MP and Iraq war veteran Andrew Murrison in a review of support for ex-armed forces personnel, published today.
Dr Fox told the Conservative Party conference that the free telephone counselling service and 30 nurses will be introduced immediately, while ministers are expected to eventually give the green light to all of the recommendations in the report.
The report by Mr Murrison - currently a serving Royal Navy reserve - also includes recommendations for better health screening and new networks of voluntary support, according to officials.
Providing enough dedicated nurses for there to be one between every two mental health trusts will cost £1.5m a year and the helpline less than £500 a year by using an existing service, they indicated.
Mr Murrison’s report was commissioned by Prime Minister David Cameron after research showed one in four Iraq veterans suffered mental health disorders and one in 20 had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Combat Stress, a charity which deals with veterans’ mental health issues, received 1,250 new referrals in the last year, up two thirds since 2005, but still suspected to be a fraction of the true number of cases, government officials said.