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The chairman of the Armed Forces Committee of the British Medical Association recently told the Select Committee on Defence that being repeatedly deployed does a career no good. Reservists lose out over training, and employers, including the NHS, are increasingly less enthusiastic in support after repeated redeployments. We are not looking at a tour every other year, but tours at frequent intervals. Harmony has gone out of the window. Reservists meet the shortfall of 55 per cent in the medical services. Retention of the Defence Medical Services doctors is critical and must be addressed as a major priority.
The practical issue that is of special concern to me, however, is aftercare for all reservists returning to the community. Research into health surveillance has been carried out at the Kings Centre and demonstrated that reservists were reporting mental health issues at double the rate of their regular counterparts. As a result, the MoD has introduced the Reservists Mental Health Programme. This has been warmly welcomed by the legion, but there is one major difficulty which must be tackled at once. The programme offers a mental health assessment to reservists who have been in active deployment since 2003, and anyone diagnosed with PTSD, or any other stress-related disorder, is eligible for treatment through the department of mental health.
However, the great difficulty is that 84 per cent of GPs, through whom referral must be made, have, on
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Reservists injured in operations are entitled also to priority treatment by the NHS. In many cases, the NHS does not appear to know this. Not least, reservists families, like service families, will often need welfare support. The Defence Committee remains concerned, in any case, that medical records do not transfer as seamlessly from the Armed Forces to civilian life as they could. Too much is left to the initiative of the patient. Reserve units should have, as the NAO has recommended, adequate, dedicated provision of welfare support. Families can be very isolated and post-traumatic stress and alcoholism, often a factor in that stress, all have serious consequences for the family as much as for the reservists themselves. They take time to surface and a safety net needs to be put in place soon.
The Army Families Federation expressed concern to the Select Committee about the need for much clearer, better information to be available. The MoDs very good initiative is wasted without a really effective campaign to inform GPs, the NHS, the reservists themselves and their families, and the public of what is available and what rights reservists have to priority treatment. It will save many lives over many years.
I submit that Her Majestys Government also need to recognise the vital role played by the charities; the Royal British Legion, SSAFA, Combat Stress and the service charities to name only a few. Recently, I was deeply impressed to find that the legion, Citizens Advice and the RAF Benevolent Fund have combined to set up the unique Benefits and Money Advice unit. It is available to serving and ex-service men and women through 19 citizens advice bureaux. Citizens Advice is already working with the Veterans Policy Unit in the MoD. Could it not produce some simple leaflets telling reservists and all veterans their priority rights in the NHS and the special services available on referral by GPs? These could be distributed through the BMA, the family federations and the charities, as well as by the appropriate service organisations and perhaps the CABs. We need to demonstrate practical support for the people who are serving the country so well.
Unfortunately, the DMS does not track reservists or regular veterans once they have left service. The Defence Select Committee recommended introducing a robust tracking system for veterans, which could include reservists, to ensure that they are receiving the healthcare that they need and are entitled to. The MoD and the NHS would need to work, as the legion says, in partnership to design and implement such a system. The legion would support it and believes that one possible way to help deliver priority treatment more successfully would be through the introduction of an NHS tracking system for veterans. An opt-out tracking system would, in the view of the legion, make it much easier for health professionals to identify
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Viscount Brookeborough: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, for introducing the debate. I join others in expressing admiration and pride for the selfless service of our men and women undertaken in the past few years. It is outstanding, and we must recognise that it is enabled only by the exceptional support of their families. They continue to run the home and family life, often on their own, for six months or more, coping with all those life problems that used to be shared.
In debating the future roles, we are also providing ideas and discussion for the review team. Today, that team has the luxury of hearing all the answers without having to ask the questions. We should bear in mind that the customers of the reserves are the Regular Forces. It is often said that the customer is always right. They are the ones who need the support, and if the reserves are not supplying the relevant numbers and skills, they become unsustainable.
The first step is, therefore, for otherssenior officers currently servingto define this support precisely: that is, what the regulars require and what they expect to receive when it arrives. The second step is for the review team to gather the evidence to form an opinion on how that can best be done. Having accepted the review teams recommendations, the third step is that the Government must fund the reserves to this level. Should they not do so, all will have been in vain, and the operational commitments as they appear in the medium term will not be sustainable.
I want to comment on the second stepon the TA, because that is where my experience lies. First, I note that the review team consists of officers and MoD civil servants. There is therefore an absence of independent civilians with no direct military involvement or special loyalty to the system. Yet, we recruit reserves from the civilian community. Once recruited, they spend 95 per cent of their lives in this community. It is only when they are mobilised that they enter the military community. Your Lordships can see that the review team very much comes from within the MoD. Will its members not be prejudiced a little, as we all are when we come across the military and we are all very impressedeven those who have been on the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme, which I have not? What can be done to address this issue?
I realise that civilian consultants have been taken on. However, it is sometimes said that consultants produce a report that suits the purpose. If we are dealing with the civilian community and we know of the problems of awareness in that area, we must get out there and learn more about the potential and how to harness it. This review is the equivalent of a committee
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I have one final point on the review. There should be a comprehensive call for evidence, as we would issue for an inquiry here, to all organisations, employers and reserve bases. This should be placed on the internet and, as is the case in this House, there should be press releases to tell people where to find it on the internet. The comments and returns that we get may be useful, and even refreshing or shocking. We must have the widest participation.
On the subject of recruiting, most units are understrength, so it is important that we improve this. The new organisation, the Recruiting Group and Commander Regional Recruiting, seems to be working well in Northern Ireland, although I have heard contrary reports about it in mainland GB. The recruiting team needs to be aware of this and to look into it. Apart from via current TV and newspaper adverts, schools and word of mouth, how do civilians access the system? What presence do we have in the civilian job marketin jobcentres and so on? I fear that it is too little or almost non-existent, yet we are trying to communicate with that civilian client group. Army recruiting offices are perhaps formidable places. Some people do not like to be seen by their friends to go in there. Also, they appear to be organised for school leavers, who may wish to join the Regular Forces. However, many reserve recruits are mature people with jobs. I am sure that they can wholly reflect the opportunities, commitments and career enhancement of the reservesbut do they? In short, they might not really market the job very well.
Clearly, we fail to achieve our aim of full recruitment. In officer recruiting, we are said to be achieving about half the numbers that we wish for. I am aware of the university OTCs, but I wonder whether there is more that we can do in this area to encourage potential reserve officers. Could we, for instance, tie membership of the OTC, and a commitment to reserve service of two or three years, to a refunding of some or all of an individuals student loan? This would perhaps be taken quite well. Even at £5,000 or £10,000, it would be good value. Before the MoD jumps up and down and refuses to cost it, what about one of the other departments, such as Work and Pensions? We are told of the excellent benefits to employment and careers that such service involves, so it could be somebody elses responsibility.
I make a few points about training. One issue is the reduction in, or non-availability of, funds for adequate training in units that are not currently on the operations plot. This has the effect of personnel in those units lacking job satisfaction and motivation, and suffering a reduction in morale. It also affects recruiting. There is strong anecdotal evidence that some potential recruits
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In Northern Ireland during the Troubles, we had part-time battalions up to 1,500 strong. That was on the basis of trying to get a regular battalions patrolling capability. Perhaps we should amalgamate more reserve units to form larger battalions, if necessary retaining their historic names, but under one umbrella. Composite companies would be easier to form for tours, and the remainder left behind would still provide continued structural integrity and formed unit training ability. Currently, with company-sized deployments, this is often not the case. There would also be fewer named units off the ops plot with the previously described problems.
We have two types of reinforcementsindividuals and formed bodies. We have heard about the specialists, who are very good as individual reinforcementsATOs, signallers, medics and so on. However, it is not necessarily so with soldiers. We also have formed bodies. For instance, at the moment Imjin Company of 2 Royal Irish, of which I am honorary colonel, is on operations in Afghanistan, as a complete composite company with 1 Royal Irish. It consists of 100 Territorial Army and about 30 regulars, commanded most ably by a Royal Irish TA major, Mark Hudson. It is a great credit to the TA and an example of best practice in such deployment. This is not the first TA company deployment, but it is the first to go with a sister or parent unit, which has that advantage.
On retention, the National Employer Advisory Board is key. I will not go into this, as the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, is speaking immediately after me. My only point is that the other imperative is to maintain the support of the families. Maybe they should also come under the umbrella of such an organisation, since this important triangle consists of the serviceperson, their family and the employer.
I speak on aftercare for a moment. The subject was brought up by the noble Baroness, Lady Park. I spoke about this in the debate on the Queens Speech and I will not repeat myself. When the Minister kindly replied to me in writing, she pointed out what progress was being made in coping with mental health in the veteran community. However, I make the point that government plans rely on these cases walking into medical centres. We have had nearly 40 years of experience and the truth is that patients suffering delayed mental illness do not just walk in, and an outreach organisation such as we have in Northern Ireland is required. Many military people agree with this.
When I saw the Secretary of State in his office last Tuesday, I understood him to say that, because of improved practices such as in-theatre psychiatrists and post-op decompression, he did not expect the mental after-effects to be as extreme as after the Falklands War. I am not a psychiatrist, but I wonder how many of them would agree. When I asked him about regimental
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I have one more point. When the Commons Defence Committee produced its report on mental health, it was not even made aware of our situation in Northern Ireland, with our 40 years experience. When I spoke to the chairman, he had not even heard of the aftercare service. Secondly, after the CGS opened our facility recently, it was suggested that perhaps there should be a presentation at this conference. Within 24 hours, the Under-Secretary of States office had turned down the suggestion, saying that the subject could remain on the fringes, but that the Under-Secretary would go and see the unit some time. There is no justification for keeping such innovative ideas out of such an important discussion on our soldiers welfare. I look forward to following the progress of the review team, perhaps even on the internet.
Lord Glenarthur: My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Freeman for securing this important and timely debate. I join him in celebrating 100 years of the Territorial Army. It is not often that we have a full debate on the reserves in your Lordships House, although we regularly refer to them in ordinary defence debates. I was astonished that the only debate I could find was introduced by myself on 12 December 1979. I was even more surprised to discover that, apart from myself and Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, who replied for the Government, I am the only one still aliveapart from my noble friend Lord Hayhoe, who was a Minister at the time and who was referred to in the debate. Perhaps we should return to this subject more regularly.
I must declare a number of interests. I am chairman of the National Employer Advisory Board for the reserves, which takes informed, independent advice to Ministers and chiefs of staff on how to win and maintain the support of the employers of reservists. Through that role, I play a part on a number of MoD committees and studies. I attend the council meetings of the Reserve Forces and Cadets Association with my noble friend Lord Freeman. I am also honorary colonel of 306 Field Hospital (Volunteers) and Honorary Air Commodore of 612 (County of Aberdeen) Squadron Royal Auxiliary Air Force. That is another medical unit and I very much endorse the comments made by my noble friend Lord Fowler on the Defence Medical Services.
Through all these activities, it is obvious that I meet many reservists and I can testify, as others have done, to the enormous professionalism, skill, commitment and bravery of them all. I spent a couple of days in Afghanistan in April, with representatives of employers and from the Ministry of Defence. To see reservists,
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I will concentrate my remarks on the importance of employers to the generation of adequate numbers of reservists. My comments are entirely my own personal comments, and they do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Employer Advisory Board. I am extremely grateful to the Minister and her ministerial colleagues, the Chiefs of Staff, the director of Reserve Forces and Cadets staff and the chains of command for the ready access which, over a number of years, they have afforded me and my board, so that we can be enabled to offer the advice that we do.
The attitude of employers to reserve service is one of a number of issues affecting recruitment and retention. The attitude of families is another. Employer support has held up remarkably well to continued mobilisation over the past five or six years. It is worth saying to the noble Lord, Lord Clarke of Hampstead, that research that we have shows that 87 per cent of employers believe that reservists should be supported by employers as a matter of principle. That is a very encouraging fact.
The numbers of appeals against mobilisation, from either the reservist or the employer, is very low. That is largely due to what is known as intelligent mobilisation, where the individual volunteers well ahead to be compulsorily mobilised for operations at the moment at which they should be, to comply with the necessary relevant Acts of Parliament. The Reserve Forces Act 1996 stipulates that for the current operations, in Afghanistan and Iraq, a reservist should not be mobilised for more than 12 months in any three-year period. The published defence intent is for mobilisation for not more than 12 months in any five-year period. The new Armed Forces Act allows a volunteer to agree to be mobilised for more than 12 months in any three-year period. Although the latter is more likely to be applied to the unemployed, the three elements could be confusing to an employer.
Intelligent mobilisation has been a success so far but, like my noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth, I am nervous that it may not remain a successful policy for ever. There are a number of instances where niche capabilities have to be provided more regularly than one year in three. With some 1,700 volunteer reservists deployed currently in any one year, I am bound to wonder for how long the voluntary element alone will be sustainable, without recourse to compulsory mobilisation for those who do not volunteer. If that becomes a necessityI hope it does notwhat will be the effect and the reaction of employers? As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, asked, how do we safeguard their willingness to release their employees?
Employers receive a degree of financial compensation for the provision of replacements for their mobilised staff under Statutory Instrument 859, but whether that is sufficient, or will be in the future, is difficult to tell. I welcome research that is going on in the Ministry of Defence on whether further incentives along that line could be introduced. One of the key elements in an effort to maintain understanding of reserve service has been the work of SaBRESupporting Britains Reservists and Employerswhich my noble friend Lord Freeman referred to. It is in effect the organisation set up by the Ministry of Defence to support the relationship between reservists and employers. It also generates data and measures the level of employer support for reservists. Over time, it has become rather more about engagement than simply support; in effect it generates dialogue among all those concerned.
Whereas SaBRE used to be based in the Ministry of Defence, it is now co-located with my noble friends Reserve Forces and Cadets Association headquarters in London. It remains an organisation in which my board takes a close interest. Indeed, my board advises the Ministry of Defence and SaBRE on the strategy, content and mix of the SaBRE marketing plan, as well as on the efficiency and effectiveness of the SaBRE campaign. Staffed by experienced and qualified marketing professionals, it has been largely instrumental in securing and promulgating the key messages to employers and reservists over the years and on how best to adapt the messages in the light of changed circumstances.
SaBRE has excellent regional campaign directors, who are co-located with my noble friends Reserve Forces and Cadets Association. It often worries me that there appears to be some varietyoverall, I have lots of admiration for the work of RFCAsas to how the RFCAs locally deliver the SaBRE campaign in their regions and consequently how the increasingly slender funds that SaBRE has at its disposal can be used to best effect. The SaBRE budget of effectively under £3 million a year is woefully inadequate for what is required.
There is one other related area of growing importance, which runs under a number of headingsdefence and society, Armed Forces and society, the defence contribution to society, or whatever one wants to call it. As my noble friend Lord Freeman said, the reserves have a key role in developing that concept, because they are a natural bridge between the military and civilian elements of societythey are in both. The responsibility also lies in the chains of command, with the RFCAs and others. The maintenance of accurate data about employers is a key element in SaBREs activities. It also helps to inform the internal review of employer support that is ongoing in the MoD, which in turn will help to inform the reserves review, which has been spoken about.
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