Health leaders discuss the future of veteran’s mental health services as referrals rise 30% in four months this year

Influential leaders from the Cabinet Office, the NHS and third sector came together in York this week to discuss improving veterans’ mental health services.

Op Courage logoThe purpose behind this influential meeting of minds was to hear from a collaborative of partners on how they were successfully implementing Op COURAGE – The Veterans Mental Health and Wellbeing Service across the North of England, and what they could do to influence policy to improve the health and lives of our armed forces veterans across the whole of the UK.

Issues discussed included:

  • The increasing demand for veteran’s mental health services – Jon Milford, Acting Associate Director at Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne & Wear NHS Foundation Trust, said referrals into the Transition, Intervention and Liaison Service (TILS) rose 30% in the first four months of this year alone. He also spoke about how the unfolding situation in Afghanistan had exacerbated this demand during 2021 – which had negatively impacted existing service users and their families, as well as generating new referrals.


  • Dr Lawrence Atkins, Clinical Lead for Veterans and Specialty Doctor at Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, spoke about how establishing trust with veterans was a very important to maintain their engagement in health services. Dr Atkins worked as a Medical Officer in the Territorial Army for 14 years and said this kind of experience meant veterans were more likely to trust him and stick with their treatment programmes. He also said veterans preferred an initial face to face contact to establish trust, after which many of them were happy to receive support remotely using video conferencing technology.


  • All parties talked about the increasing number of veterans with addiction problems, including alcohol, drugs and gambling. All parties were keen to improve the availability and consistency of addiction services across their areas.


  • Amanda Naylor, Operations Manager for the Veteran’s High Intensity Service and Complex Treatment Service at Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, spoke about how the rebranding of veteran’s mental health services to Op COURAGE in March 2021 had simplified the service offer and improved access.


  • Finally, there was a call for more robust data and research to inform how services are planned and developed for the future, including the length of care packages on offer, which in turn would inform the staffing requirements of services.


Professor Sue Proctor (pictured), Chair of Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, co-hosted the event. She said: “This was an invaluable opportunity for us to showcase the progress we’ve made in the North of England, as well as influence national policy makers on what they could do to help us go further. We look forward to continuing this conversation.”

“If there’s one outcome that I’d like see it is better data and research to inform our decision-making. We heard that demand is going up in terms of numbers, intensity and complexity. If we can measure what matters we can present a better case for future investment, including in the workforce required for services.”



David RowleyDavid Rowley (pictured), Head of Operations for Specialist Services at Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, added: “All parties agreed that the rising prevalence of veterans presenting with addiction problems was something we needed to tackle together, as well as the fallout from Afghanistan and how this has exacerbated mental health problems.

“Where we are very strong is through our partnership working between the NHS and veteran support organisations. This has helped us all overcome boundaries to deliver better care for veterans and to meet the challenge of establishing and maintaining trust so that veterans can be confident to reach out for help.”

For more information about Op COURAGE, the Veteran’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Service, visit the NHS website.

In the North of England, the Op COURAGE lead providers of services are Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust for TILS, and Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust for the Complex Treatment Service (CTS) and High Intensity Service (HIS), in partnership with third sector organisations Combat Stress and Walking with the Wounded.


Op COURAGE Cabinet Office Delegation

In attendance from the Cabinet Office were:

  • David Richmond CBE, Independent Veterans Advisor to UK Government
  • Nicky Murdoch MBE, Veteran and Member of the Veteran’s Advisory Board at the Cabinet Office
  • Dr Jonathan Leach, a GP, NHS England’s Medical Director for COVID Vaccination and Associate Medical Director for Military and Veteran’s Health
  • Lt Col Johnny Lighten MBE, a serving Army Officer and the National Chair of the House of Commons Veteran’s Affairs Committee, working to the Cabinet office and Vets UK.
  • Guy Benson, a former army officer and leader of the Veteran’s Covenant Healthcare Alliance Team working with its Chair Professor Tim Briggs CBE.