In a very important development concerning soldier’s mental health and the armed forces of the United Kingdom, the MoD (UK Ministry of Defense) has elected to transfer military personnel patient care to the private sector. This major change in policy will not only improve quality of care for the military, but also boost the National Health Service’s (NHS) during an extremely weak global and national medical economy.

Roughly 300 military patients require admission into a mental health facility at this time. Between 2003 and 2009, those needing psychiatric assistance were admitted into private or independent sector outlets as the last mental health military facility shut down in 2003.

Dr. Martin Deahl, of the South Staffordshire and Shropshire NHS Foundation Trust in a comment published by Lancet, and online first reads:

Although value for money was an important consideration, the new contract was awarded after a rigorous inspection of all potential providers, mainly on criteria of quality and accessibility. The successful NHS bid was not the cheapest, and the recent decision of the US Armed Forces (Europe) to participate and admit their personnel into NHS acute psychiatric units is a further affirmation of quality.

In the 17 months January 2009 and June 2010, all three Royal Armed Forces (RAF) divisions saw in access of 360 of its members briefly (less than 10 days) checked into public NHS psych wards alongside their fellow civilian countrymen. The money remains where the patients are located, either in the military or private/public sectors and much is reinvested back in to patient care.

Deahl continues:

Patients’ and the MoD’s satisfaction are both positive, and the success of the partnership is exceeding expectation…It also sensitises the NHS to the military ethos and culture, which not only benefits the service community but also provides a potential platform for the provision of care to service veterans, who routinely claim that the NHS is neither equipped nor understands their particular needs… Perhaps most importantly, the presence of service personnel on our wards itself reduces stigma.

This new agreement exemplifies to the public that NHS facilities are as up to the mental health challenge, if not better equipped than their independent counterparts. South Staffordshire and Shropshire NHS Foundation Trust, Deahl works, leads a collaboration of health trusts to deliver the contract nationwide and transfer key learnings.

To summarize, Deahl concludes with these notes:

The MoD contract is an affirmation of the improvement that has taken place in standards of mental health inpatient care in recent years. The NHS and MoD have embarked on a journey which might yet bring further unintended benefits… Harnessing public money currently spent in the independent sector and directing it to the NHS both makes economic sense and is morally just. Most importantly, if other uniformed services (many of whom also happen to be service veterans), as well as other public servants follow suit (who currently often use the private sector), this will boost public confidence about the quality of service provision in the NHS and do much to combat the stigma and fear traditionally associated with public-sector mental health services.

“Service personnel move to NHS mental health inpatient care”
Martin Deahl
The Lancet, Early Online Publication, 16 September 2010

Written by: Sy Kraft, B.A. – Journalism – California State University, Northridge (CSUN)