The NHS Yorkshire and the Humber Armed Forces Network was officially launched at Catterick Garrison yesterday to cope with an increasing number of current and ex-service personnel in need of support and the fall-out from next year’s deployment to Afghanistan which will represent Yorkshire’s biggest military commitment since the Second world War.
The network, between the NHS, Ministry of Defence (MoD), veterans’ charities and local authorities, is to help prevent a feared mental and physical health timebomb predicted by experts in the region without urgent support for soldiers and their families.
It comes as the Yorkshire Post launches its Christmas Appeal in support of ABF – The Soldiers’ Charity, which in the past year has seen a 50 per cent leap in the number of Army families seeking its help, alongside a rocketing number of individual cases.
Kathryn Riddle, chair of NHS North England, said: “This is not a normal war. This is not like World War Two where everybody was in it together.
“This is a particular group of people who because of their career choice find themselves damaged mentally or physically.
“From our perspective, the problem for the NHS is making sure that we understand the particular needs both mental and physical that Armed Forces personnel and their families have and how they will be different to the average person who has not been exposed to that sort of trauma.
“There is a stigma about mental health, especially in the Armed Forces where it can be quite a macho environment.”
With Yorkshire and the North East currently providing 16,550 soldiers, 11 per cent of the regular Army, and the MoD aiming to recruit a total of 17 per cent of its troops from the area, the physical and mental scars of Afghanistan on the region are predicted to be stark.
A new personnel recovery centre for wounded soldiers which opened at Catterick Garrison, North Yorkshire, last month, is braced to cope with a demand far outstripping anywhere else in the country.
Meanwhile, Army insiders have told the Yorkshire Post that the MoD cuts announced earlier this year as part of the biggest redundancy programme in decades, has piled on even more stress for soldiers with morale now desperately low.
Chris Long, chief executive of NHS Humber and chair of the network, said: “Our biggest challenge is how to raise awareness of the Armed Forces – if we do that we will succeed.”
The Yorkshire Post revealed yesterday that the Yorkshire and Humber Local Government Association (LGA) – a partnership of all 32 councils across the region – has become the first in the country to collectively agree to commit to the Government’s new Armed Forces Community Covenant.
The covenant enshrines in law the principle that members of the military are owed a moral obligation when they return from service.