Health and Wellbeing Stakeholder Insights – Armed Forces Personnel and Veterans Joint Health Group

Professor Jason Leitch is the National Clinical Director of the Scottish Government and chairs the Implementation Group of the Armed Forces Personnel and Veterans Joint Health Group, which includes representatives from a wide range of stakeholders, including the armed forces, veterans’ organisations and charities, NHS Scotland, NHS and Local Authority Armed Forces and Veterans Champions, and the Scottish Government.

A number of years ago I was approached to take on the role of the Scottish Government’s Armed Forces and veteran’s champion in the health directorate. I was delighted to do so. It’s been a fascinating few years as I’ve learned about the broad work underway and met with those affected by their service and the work going on across sectors to assist.

I now Chair the Implementation Group, part of the Armed Forces Personnel and Veterans Joint Health Group. The Joint Group, which is Chaired by the Chief Medical Officer, Gregor Smith, drives progress towards delivery of commitments relating to the health of the Armed Forces and veterans community here in Scotland.

We are a ‘committee’ which I think it’s fair to say has two uniquely non-committee functions; it’s fun and it gets stuff done. We’ve worked together across the NHS, the third sector, the Commissioner’s office and with those with lived experience on subjects as broad as access, hearing aids, employability, medical records and, of course, mental health. We’ve made progress but there is more to do. With the help of the Veteran’s Commissioner’s reports we have a clear set of priorities and we will endeavour to continue to push the rock up the hill.

Change is not straightforward. A mentor of mine taught me that ‘every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets’. If you want change, you have to change the system. Everyone I have met in this field is keen to do exactly that. The Scottish Government can convene and help but the real work happens in the frontline services.

The Scottish Government is fully committed to ensuring that all Armed Forces personnel who serve in Scotland, veterans who live in Scotland and their families are able to access the best possible care and support, including safe, effective and person-centred healthcare. It is through collaboration and connecting with the subject matter experts that we can achieve this.  We engage with colleagues on a 4 nation basis.  While the Armed Forces Covenant is reserved, the application of health is devolved, all of which adds to the complexity, it is also truly helpful in shaping learning. 

The Group’s broad membership harnesses a range of experts who work together on priority areas and recommendations driving progress towards our commitments of meeting the health needs of Armed Forces personnel and veterans in Scotland.   We are aware that many of the recommendations are interlinked and addressing some of the inequalities that veterans face sits at the heart of the Joint Group’s varied priorities.  I am hopeful for the future and I look forward to playing a small role in helping.