Nottinghamshire Veterans and Families Partnership ...
One of the objectives of the 'Living with PTSD' project is to get involved with the NHS and other organisations/companies to help make changes in some areas of policy and to raise awareness of what PTSD feels like for Veterans from the perspective of the Veteran seeking help.
To further the objectives laid out above, I was invited onto the Nottinghamshire Veterans and Families Partnership (NVFP) last October (2013) but I haven't had a chance to report on its activities yet because I've had my hands full taking care of the exhibitions.
So, for those of you interested in Veterans affairs, I'll be sharing progress reports from the group.
Background of the NVFP
The group's been meeting for three years or so and has representatives from Combat Stress, The Royal British Legion, SSAFA, local regiments and Cadet groups, the Prison Service, Probation Service, Nottinghamshire Constabulary, The Courts, The Service and Veterans Personnel Agency, The NHS and other local organisations. I'll post the groups terms of reference later.
Updates re issues raised
In October 2013 I gave a brief presentation about my experiences, the work of Wolf Photography and made some recommendations for change in the way some of the NHS staff conduct themselves when delivering mental health care/support. I also raised my concerns about the fact that people transferring into this County's care shouldn't have to go through the hoop of being re-diagnosed when they have documentary evidence to support their transfer of care. Forcing people to go through a further diagnosis is like being emotionally raped. It's unhealthy, causes further scarring and destroys coping mechanisms.
A working party was set up consisting of three people to look at providing a document of guidance to all mental health professionals in the local NHS Trust. The draft document has been compiled and we're waiting for the group to adopt it and make it available to trust staff.
Nothing has been mentioned about re-diagnosis of transferring patients yet and the issue seems to have been swept under the rug. The NHS always seem to be crying about a lack of resources. It would therefore seem sensible to not waste time and resources by re-diagnosing patients that have been under the care of similarly qualified professionals in other areas of the country. The implications of pushing Veterans with PTSD into opening up about their feelings and symptoms, when they're not ready to do so, is that you risk arming a ticking time bomb that can explode in the worst possible way ... the results of which could be physical violence or suicide.
On a positive note, Nottinghamshire Police have flicked the switch on their system to identify Veterans that come to their attention as a result of incidents. The aim is to provide avenues of support for Veterans should they need it.
One of the most beneficial aspects of this group are the 'Organisational Updates'. It's where we get to find out what initiatives the other groups are working on and share that news on our own networks, thus helping the news to go further. There were a couple of interesting items at the last meeting but Organisational Updates have been changed and shifted so that they're no longer part of the main meeting. I tried to find out why but was ignored by the group Chair (a reaction that would have dire consequences with some Veterans). I'll be bringing the issue up at the next meeting later this month. To see if we can have it placed back on the main agenda. If we can't, there's no point in being there, as it will just be an unbalanced token group to satisfy NHS bosses rather than a balanced group that is supposed to be forming a pathway to benefit Veterans and their dependents.
Allied to the last paragraph is the issue of networking information about related and relevant issues through social media networking. It's a fantastic, cost effective way to share information and needs to be done on a local level by all the agencies/groups involved. From what I've seen so far, it seems to be smaller projects that are sharing local advice and information.
Funding the NHS Mental Health Services and Identifying Veterans' Needs
At the last meeting the group was steered in the direction of funding. It was suggested that if what the groups seeks to achieve is successful, we'll need more funding to provide the service.
However, awareness was raised of some issues:
Most Veterans access appropriate mental health support as a result of their coming to notice for some other problem. In my case it was a serious Road Traffic Accident, for others it might be a relationship breakdown or perhaps an issue of bullying or harassment at work (there are many more reasons). If my GP wasn't switched on and hadn't recognised my symptoms and then made the appropriate referral ... I would probably still be living in ignorance of the fact that I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The following information was shared and corroborated by other members of the group:
Veterans, generally speaking, will not go to a GP and say 'Help, I have PTSD', or 'Help, I think I have problems after serving in the armed forces'. They're conditioned to survive and carry on until they drop.
The majority of GPs are ignorant of mental health issues and this needs to change as GPs are the people that can make referrals to other services through existing funding streams.
Some serious effort needs to be put into identifying why Veterans aren't accessing appropriate services, rather than seeking funding for a purpose that can't be realised, only to have that money moved to a different budget when it isn't being used for the target group.
The group have had a website authorised for their use. I'm hoping that some content will be agreed upon at the next meeting, as there's no reason why it can't go live to provide some basic information to Veterans and their families. It can be updated and adapted as other needs are identified.
Stigma is another serious consideration and one that the NHS mental health teams in Cornwall took very seriously; to the end that mental and physical health records were kept separate. When I asked practitioners there about the issue I was told that some staff, including senior managers, were judgemental about employees with mental health problems, so the records were kept separate to protect people, employees and the public from those that may seek to stigmatise or discriminate against them on the grounds of mental health disabilities.
That's about it for this update. I hope that you have found it useful and informative. Next time I hope to provide some actual ways to access support, apart from the general route of GPs. You can find some basic information and assistance on my website under 'Help' and 'PTSD'.
If you'd like to know more about how PTSD can feel, please pop along to one of my rolling exhibitions. You can see the activity schedule on www.living-with-ptsd.org.uk.
All the best
Villayat 'Wolf' Sunkmanitu