Ministers join forces to encourage veterans to self declare to GPs

Veterans’ Minister Johnny Mercer and Health Secretary Steve Barclay are urging veterans and service leavers to access specialist healthcare pathways run by NHS England and service charities

  • Ex-forces personnel in England are being urged to identify themselves as veterans with their GPs
  • NHS England offers dedicated mental and physical health care pathways for veterans: Op COURAGE and Op RESTORE
  • 740 referrals have been made to Op RESTORE so far, but many more could benefit from the multi-disciplinary service

Veterans’ Minister Johnny Mercer and Health Secretary Steve Barclay are urging veterans and service leavers to access specialist healthcare pathways run by NHS England and service charities.

The ministers met with the Op RESTORE team at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, North London. The service supports veterans in England who have served in, or are leaving, the UK Armed Forces and have continuing, physical health injuries and related medical problems attributed to their time in the armed forces.

The ministers met with a number of veteran patients, who spoke of how multi-disciplinary teams who understand their military backgrounds have helped to restore their physical health and wellbeing.

Formerly known as the Veterans Trauma Network (VTN), the service has been renamed to help improve awareness of it amongst veterans and to sit as part of a suite of dedicated healthcare pathways run by NHS England, including Op COURAGE: The Veterans Mental Health and Wellbeing Service. The new name is intended to support improved access to Op RESTORE and make it more identifiable to both veterans and clinicians to boost referrals and service uptake.

From the autumn, Op RESTORE will be able to support veterans to access the Veteran Mobility Fund, which will deliver high quality support to veterans with physical disabilities through grants to enable them to access mobility equipment that meets their needs and improves their quality of life.

By declaring themselves to their local GP, ex-forces personnel will be able to access more specialised physical and mental health care support. NHS England launched the VTN in 2016, with 740 referrals so far - but many more ex-service personnel could also benefit.

Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Steve Barclay said:

"Veterans have given so much to this country and when they need support as a result of their dedicated service, it’s only right that the NHS is there for them.

"Op Restore is a brilliant programme that helps with veterans’ physical health and wellbeing. Their joint approach includes military clinicians, meaning they receive help from medical professionals with a deeper understanding of their individual needs.

"For most veterans, serving the nation is a hugely positive and beneficial experience. But for the minority who find their health impacted by their time in the armed forces, I want them to be able to come forward to receive both short and longer-term care tailored specifically to them, and I want them to know that services such as Op Restore are there to support them."

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Rt Hon. Johnny Mercer said:

"The reason I joined this government was to improve access to veterans’ care, and I’m incredibly proud of the progress we’ve made over the last few years.

"We now have clear and dedicated pathways for mental and physical health, and are looking at how we can extend this support further to provide wraparound, community support.

"If you have been injured, mentally or physically, by your time in service, please contact your GP and identify yourself as a veteran so you can access the specialist treatment that’s right for you."

The holistic support is provided to veterans through working together with military and civilian medical professionals along with armed forces charities and NHS teams. Together, the network understands military life and the longer-term care and support that may be required for veterans, service leavers, reservists, families and carers. Available across England, and informed by veterans, the service is hosted by Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust.

Since its inception in 2016, there have been more than 740 referrals to the Op RESTORE. In 2022-23, 97% of referrals were reviewed at multi-disciplinary teams within 8 weeks. Many more ex-forces personnel are also eligible for specialist support.

National Clinical Director of Op RESTORE, Shehan Hettiaratchy, has been a reservist for more than 20 years and has an extensive understanding of military trauma injuries following a deployment as a military plastic surgeon to Birmingham and on Operation Herrick. Shehan assumed the role of Chair of NHS England’s Clinical Reference Group for the Armed Forces in May 2020 and National Specialty Adviser, Armed Forces Health in 2022.

Shehan Hettiaratchy, National Clinical Director of Op RESTORE and Chair of the NHS England Armed Forces Healthcare Clinical Reference Group, said:

"We work with military charities and closely link with Op COURAGE so every element of the veterans’ health needs are met. Veterans will be seen by clinicians within the NHS who have an understanding of the challenges of military life – many having served themselves.

"If you have continuing physical health injuries and related medical problems attributed to you time in the Armed Forces and think you need the help that Op RESTORE can give you, ask your GP to refer you and we’ll do the rest."

Maurillia, Op RESTORE patient said:

"The service has made me aware that I matter, that I have a voice - no matter how small or how soft. To speak to a consultant who understands my injuries and hear someone else rather than myself say the same things in a different way, no matter how long it has taken. The support to me along this journey from Op RESTORE has been brilliant."

Op RESTORE veteran support workers are linked with local and national charities and organisations so can support access to housing, employment, benefits, for example, as well as local veterans breakfast clubs and volunteering opportunities which support the veteran’s wellbeing.

Further armed forces healthcare services provided by the NHS in England include Op NOVA: Supporting Veterans in the Justice System and, most recently Op COMMUNITY: Armed Forces Community Support.

Cabinet Office
Department of Health and Social Care
Office for Veterans' Affairs
The Rt Hon Johnny Mercer MP
The Rt Hon Steve Barclay MP