Image ID: 2G8JDXG Staff on NHS hospital ward 031014 CREDIT PA ALAMY
Staff on an NHS hospital ward (Picture: PA / Alamy).
Health and Fitness

What is Op Courage and how could you help to improve it?

The NHS in England wants to know how to do Op Courage better.

Image ID: 2G8JDXG Staff on NHS hospital ward 031014 CREDIT PA ALAMY
Staff on an NHS hospital ward (Picture: PA / Alamy).

When a veteran is struggling with their mental health or in a mental health crisis, there is a dedicated service provided by the NHS in England designed to help and it now needs your help to improve what is offered.  

Op Courage is the collective name for an NHS mental health and wellbeing service created in 2017 specifically with the Armed Forces community in mind. 

Whether you are making the transition to civvy street, a veteran, reservist or a family member of someone who has served, Op Courage is there to support you.

The post-military service can help the Armed Forces community with a range of support and treatment, including: 

  • Supporting you with intensive emergency care and treatment if you are in a crisis. 
  • Helping you transition to civvy street by providing mental health care through the Defence Medical Services. 
  • Supporting armed forces families affected by mental health problems, including helping you access local services. 
  • Helping you spot and treat early signs of mental health problems. 
Op Courage NHS England survey call to action CREDIT NHS England
(Picture: NHS England)

Now Op Courage wants to do more to help those in need, with the service working in partnership with a range of organisations from across the NHS, Armed Forces charities and wider charitable sector.

Here is where you come into the equation.

A survey has been made available to help those who work for Op Courage hear your views on how they can enhance the current provision. 

For example, do you think they need to improve support for substance misuse and gambling addictions? 

Have veterans, reservists or members of the wider Armed Forces community experienced difficulties in accessing treatment? 

Listen: Colonel (Retired) Dr Jonathan Leach speaks to Hal Stewart about Op Courage (Picture: Col (Retd) Leach stood on top of Basra Palace, Iraq during his service).

One veteran who is helping to shape the work of Op Courage is Colonel (Retired) Dr Jonathan Leach, who served for 25 years, 17 of which were spent in uniform on operational tours in countries such as Northern Ireland, former Yugoslavia and Iraq, before leaving the services to work for the NHS in 2008. 

He now works as the NHS England Medical Director for Armed Forces and Veterans Health, as the NHS England Medical Director for COVID-19 vaccination and as a General Practitioner at Davenal House Surgery in Bromsgrove. 

He spoke to Hal Stewart, a broadcaster for BFBS the Forces Station about the success of Op Courage since it was established five years ago and the plan to improve it, saying: "We've had about 20,000 patients through this now and essentially it's to provide more specific services to the needs of the veterans. 

"What I often describe is actually the medicine, if you like, the operation, is the same but often it's having that understanding, the connection with the patient which is really important. 

"In the main, people have found this extremely helpful, you know, that's really good to hear but we're certainly not resting on our laurels." 

Op Courage NHS England survey call to action CREDIT NHS England
(Picture: NHS England)

The people who work for Op Courage all have a connection to the Armed Forces - whether it be from their own service or through having worked directly with the military - and want to discover what could be done to better meet the needs of those who use it and widen the services offered. 

Dr Leach expanded on who Op Courage specifically wants to hear from through the survey, saying: "Particularly veterans with mental health or physical health problems, but also those who particularly have not sought help about what they would find helpful. 

"We're very clear that actually family members, they're often the person behind the veteran. They're the person there at 2 o'clock in the morning. 

"What we're looking for is any feedback that people would have on current services. 

"What works well, perhaps other ways in which we could improve. 

"We particularly wonder about improving the services for those who may be taking illicit substances, drugs and things like this and gambling."

Op Courage NHS England survey call to action CREDIT NHS England
(Picture: NHS England)

Who can benefit from Op Courage? 

To receive help you must: 

  • Be a resident in England and have served in the UK Armed Forces for at least a full day. 
  • Be registered with a GP practice in England or be willing and eligible to register with a GP. 
  • Provide your military service number. 

You can get also support from Op Courage even if you left the Armed Forces many decades ago and if you are still serving but have a discharge date. 

How do you contact Op Courage? 

You can get the help and support you need in the following ways:  

  • Directly getting in contact yourself, or through a family member or friend. 
  • Asking a GP to refer you. 
  • Asking a charity to refer you.

You will be assessed to make ensure you get the suitable care and support. 

For more information on Op Courage and details of your nearest service visit www.nhs.uk/opcourage

The last time NHS England did a survey such as this, the results had a significant impact on how Op Courage was designed and delivered, so the valued opinions and suggestions of the Armed Forces community will help discover what needs to change and develop to help future patients get the support they need. 

Visit here to complete the survey, which closes on 22 May 2022. 

For more information email [email protected]