Soldiers sent to Priory clinics

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The Independent Online

Members of the armed forces are being sent at taxpayers' expense to the exclusive Priory clinics, favoured by the rich and famous, for treatment for eating disorders, addictions and other psychological problems.

The Ministry of Defence has been paying the £2,500-a-week fees so that soldiers can receive the psychiatric treatment that has put celebrities, including Kate Moss and Michael Barrymore, and the footballers Stan Collymore and Paul Gascoigne, on the road to recovery.

An unofficial contract between the Ministry of Defence and the Priory and Signet groups of private psychiatric hospitals has been established to treat soldiers who are unable to fight because of psychological ailments.

Despite pressures on the military budget, the MoD has been sending women soldiers suffering from anorexia and bulimia to the £350-a-night hospitals for help. It has also paid for "a handful" of soldiers with gambling and alcohol problems to stay at the clinics for treatment it is unable to provide.

The Priory and Signet hospitals provide some of the most expensive psychiatric care in Britain. Patients have private rooms with access to expert advice, counselling, hairdressing, yoga and medication. The clinics, also used as detox clinics, specialise in treating addictive behaviour, depression, stress and sexual problems.

The disclosure is likely to reignite the controversy over use of military funds, which erupted after at least four women soldiers had breast enlargement operations paid for by the MoD.

The Ministry of Defence said it used the two chains of clinics for problems its own psychiatric hospital at Catterick, North Yorkshire, was unable to deal with or if there was "not capacity" to treat the soldiers.

It said it had opted to use the chains because they both had hospitals near army bases. The ministry said private treatment was available to members of the army, air force and navy but refused to comment on individual cases.

A spokesman said that the army recognised that members of the armed forces "experience traumatic events that you wouldn't experience in everyday life". He said: "We do provide private psychiatric care for service personnel. It isn't on a large scale. We would use private care if someone is suffering from something that requires speciality care."