MoD to spend £10m tackling mental problems

Increasing numbers of soldiers, sailors and airmen suffer from addictions and personality disorders after duty in Iraq and Afghanistan
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The Independent Online

Defence chiefs are to spend millions of pounds on sending service staff with drink or drug addictions and personality disorders to private clinics in an attempt to tackle the increase in mental health problems caused by duty in war-zones overseas.

The Ministry of Defence is in negotiations over a three-year deal to provide residential detox services for hundreds of soldiers, sailors and airmen – often in advance of dismissing them from the services.

The department has paid the Priory "celebrity clinics" more than £12m over the past four years to treat service personnel with post-conflict trauma after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The MoD now plans to extend the £500-a-night service, targeting eating and personality disorders, amid warnings that the psychological damage inflicted by the conflicts will wreak havoc for a generation.

It is inviting private firms to bid for a £10m contract to provide an in-patient service managing patients who need "sanctuary due to mental health problems", assessment of mental health, or "detoxification from alcohol or illicit drugs".

The tender document states that the department is keen to sign-up private healthcare clinics that could treat veterans with "disorders related to alcohol misuse, eating disorders and personality disorders".

In a report due tomorrow, a committee of MPs is expected to suggest that care for personnel seriously injured on operations is "second to none", although it will demand changes to make it easier for veterans to get special care within the National Health Service.

A senior psychiatrist who has served as a reservist in Iraq warned the Defence Committee that hundreds of ex-servicemen and women are reporting mental health problems to NHS doctors who are "ill-equipped to deal with their needs".

An MoD spokesman has confirmed that most of the detox patients would be dismissed from the services once their treatment had finished. Although the forces operate a strict ban on illegal drugs, officials maintain that they have a duty of care towards their personnel, obliging them to ensure anyone with an addiction is "cleaned up" before being returned to civilian life.

"The MoD takes its duty of care very seriously," the spokesman said. "We ensure the patient will receive appropriate treatment in these cases. Normal service policy on substance misuse will apply once the patient has been discharged from a mental health care episode."

Figures reveal that under the zero-tolerance approach to drugs 15 soldiers have been kicked out of the Army every week for taking drugs including heroin, ecstasy, cannabis and cocaine. Almost 800 troops were discharged last year after failing random drug tests.

The MoD's own figures reveal that 2,123 military personnel who served in Iraq between 2003 and September 2006 were later treated for mental health conditions – about two per cent. Of these, 328 suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), 227 from other neurotic disorders and 373 from mood disorders. A further 188 showed signs of psycho-active substance misuse, such as abuse of drugs, alcohol and anti-depressants.

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