Working Life: Improving healthcare for veterans
Ahead of Remembrance Day, Brigadier (Retd) Dr Robin Simpson describes his week following Armed Forces Day in June.
It’s Armed Forces Day, an annual event to celebrate the people who make up the British Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. As a veteran myself, I appreciate the opportunity to honour everyone in the services. As the RCGP clinical champion for veterans, I love how the event gives me a platform to champion the importance of veteran healthcare, as evidence shows veterans often have different needs to the general population. I also talk to my mum on the phone about her brother, a Royal Marine who was killed in Oman in 1966.
I take the train to London to meet the chair of Cobseo, the Confederation of Service Charities. I’m presenting information on the RCGP Veteran Friendly GP Practice Accreditation Programme. Every veteran has a GP and a recent evaluation by the University of Chester found this programme improves clinicians’ understanding of veterans’ healthcare needs and improves outcomes. I then rush to the Royal Hospital Chelsea, where I have the pleasure of hosting the Duke of Gloucester, who is opening the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) garden. The opening was supported by the Chelsea Pensioners, who are ambassadors for the Army.
I spend the day at home responding to questions from GPs and other practice staff about the accreditation programme. There are now more than 1,450 accredited practices in England, and the Cabinet Office recently praised the 17% increase in practices signing up to the free scheme. There are questions about when someone is classed as a veteran and whether the programme supports veterans from the Commonwealth. A veteran is anyone who has served at least one day in the British Armed Forces (most serve for more than 10 years) and the scheme supports all veterans and their families, including those from Commonwealth countries who choose to settle in the UK.
I start early as I travel to ExCel London for the RCGP conference, which attracts some 3,500 GPs from across the UK and Europe. I deliver a short presentation on the veteran friendly programme, including information from the recent University of Chester study that found 99% of practices recommend the scheme. There is real interest among the delegates.
At lunchtime, I deliver a webinar for practice managers, hosted by the Institute of General Practice Management. I am joined by a veteran who served with the Royal Military Police. We make a good double act, despite never having met before. Every single practice manager who attends commits to signing their practice up for accreditation – it’s a really rewarding session!
It’s RAMC Corps Day – always a special event if you are a member of the corps. On this occasion, we specifically remember the RAMC personnel lost in the Falklands War 40 years ago, as well as celebrating the RAMC’s 27 Victoria Crosses (including two ‘bars’, or double awards). The parade takes place in the wonderful National Arboretum in Staffordshire. I am so proud to be a part of the RAMC and to remember those from our corps who have given everything for their country.
I am in NHS practice for my clinical day as a GP in Hampton in Arden. Clinics are busy and it’s a frenetic day. I do see a patient who is a veteran – it may surprise some readers to find that most of us see a veteran patient every day, which is another reason that accreditation is so important. This particular veteran always appreciates talking a little about his time in the army. He knows I haven’t got much time but showing an interest in him as a veteran has added great value to our professional relationship and, I believe, to the quality of his healthcare. I would encourage all GPs to consider asking that question to patients: have you served in the British Armed Forces?
Brigadier (Retd) Dr Robin Simpson
• RCGP clinical champion for veterans
• Salaried GP, two sessions a week
For more information on the RCGP’s free and evidence-based Veteran Friendly Accreditation programme, visit rcgp.org.uk/veterans.