Background to the research
There is relatively little data on veterans in Hertfordshire, particularly in relation to their access issues or healthcare needs. To address this gap, the Health Subgroup of the Hertfordshire Armed Forces Covenant Board asked us to investigate the experiences of local veterans.
What is the Hertfordshire Armed Forces Covenant Board and the Health Subgroup?
The Armed Forces Covenant is a promise from the nation that those who service, or have served in the Armed Forces and their families are treated fairly, and face no disadvantage. Known locally as “Hertfordshire Heroes” the Hertfordshire Armed Forces Covenant Board (HAFCB) aims to ensure this promise is delivered locally.
The Health Subgroup of the HAFCB aims to identify issues for veterans accessing healthcare services in Hertfordshire, and to make recommendations to the HAFCB for how to work together to develop local solutions.
What We Did
From June to December 2020 we engaged with both veterans and NHS professionals. 87 veterans completed our questionnaire and 7 veterans took part in an online focus group and 1:1 in-depth interviews. 8 local NHS organisations were interviewed – including Hospital Trusts, Clinical Commissioning Groups and “Veteran Friendly” GP practices. A coproduction event was also held with veterans and NHS professionals to consider how services could improve experiences for veterans.
What We Found
- Most NHS services do not proactively identify veterans accessing their services. Where services do identify and record veterans, there is no consistent way of sharing this information with other services. This can affect veterans’ access to priority treatment.
- Veterans are often reluctant and/or not aware of the importance of sharing their military history with NHS services, preventing them from accessing support.
- Because very few NHS services collect or share data on veterans, their healthcare needs are not fully understood.
- NHS services and veterans do not all agree on what ‘priority treatment’ for veterans means in practice.
- Veterans can find it very difficult to access priority treatment, largely because NHS services are not always aware of this entitlement.
- Most veterans are not aware of what support is available for them.
- NHS services are often unaware of what services and support are available to veterans, preventing them from signposting and referring veterans effectively.
What Happens Next?
Based on our findings, the report includes the recommendations that the Health Subgroup will propose to the Hertfordshire Armed Forces Covenant Board for approval in March 2021.
Harper Brown, Director of Integrated Specialist Care NHS and Chair of the Hertfordshire Armed Forces Covenant Board Health Subgroup commented:
“The Veterans’ Healthcare Access survey is the first local survey to try and find out what the healthcare access barriers are in Hertfordshire, funded by Public Health Hertfordshire. The final report from Healthwatch Hertfordshire provides the Health Subgroup of the Hertfordshire Armed Forces Covenant Board with an evidence base of veteran’s experience in Hertfordshire. This report will play a key part in helping us focus our main priorities for 2021/22 which aim to ensure that veterans are actively supported and face no disadvantage when accessing healthcare in Hertfordshire.”