The Contact Group

The UK collaboration for military mental health policy, treatment and research

Contact Armed Forces

The UK collaboration for military mental health policy, treatment and research

What we do

Contact members, associates and partners are currently working collaboratively on a number of identified priority military mental health projects. Each project is led by a nominated Contact member as Executive Lead to advise and assist with work in that area. If you would like further information about any of Contact’s work areas listed below, please contact us.

Photo credit: Combat Stress

Case Management >

Common Assessment >

Quality and accreditation >

Data Dashboard >

Research >

Associates programme >

Communications >

Case Management

Executive Lead: Cobseo

There has been a growing recognition of the need to improve the beneficiary journey for veterans seeking mental health services and, in particular, the linking of relevant data held by the principal statutory and third sector service providers. Following the first Contact Case Management workshop in Edinburgh in June 2019, Cobseo and Contact convened a Case Management Working Group of key stakeholders in autumn 2019 to consider the feasibility of a more holistic approach. The group’s report and recommendations were supported by the Office of Veterans Affairs (OVA), who agreed to fund a Scoping Study for the development of a Veterans Mental Health Information System (VMHIS), and to appoint an IT consultant to take this work forward.

The key principles identified by the Working Group are that:
– Veterans seeking access to mental health services should only be required to relate their history once.
– The existing silo approach, which often applies when veterans need to access multiple service providers, should be replaced by a process for effective data sharing, covering both statutory and third sector providers.
– The envisaged System should provide an immediate overview of the veteran’s dealings (if any) with mental health providers and welfare systems.
– Approved System users will have pre-determined editing rights, and access to confidential data should be limited to overviews (with links to seek further information where necessary).
– The System should be GDPR compliant, and underpinned by veterans’ consent for personal data to be utilised to support the coherent provision of mental health services.
– The new System should link existing systems, and avoid the wholesale replacement of local networks. It should also be embedded in existing local information networks.
– While the initial focus is on mental health, it is envisaged that the System can evolve at a later stage to incorporate other clinical conditions and physical health issues.
– Finally, and most importantly, the interests of the veteran must be kept at the heart of this project as it proceeds.

The Scoping Study will address the IT development work needed to achieve the aspirations set out in the Working Group report, including the development of a project specification that potential suppliers will draw upon to develop their costed proposals. The consultant is engaging with key stakeholders, and their front-line service providers, to ensure that their perspectives are reflected in the proposed way forward. Success will be dependent on achieving widespread buy-in and support across the public and charity sectors, and a commitment to address the challenges that will need to be overcome.

In March 2021, Contact hosted an online military mental health and case management conference (the programme and outputs including a video recording can be accessed at the link) at which the above aims and work were outlined and feedback invited from attendees, many of whom were service providers. Further updates on this work will be posted here and feedback on the project is welcome at any time by contacting us. Feedback so far has suggested that a VMHIS as described above would be welcomed by the sector.

Common assessment

Executive Lead: NHS England and NHS Improvement

Contact work on a common assessment framework (CAF) for use by both NHS and charity/independent military mental health treatment providers for assessing users accessing their services is being led by NHS England which chairs a sub-group of Contact members working on this issue. It is envisaged that, as a result of the CAF and accompanying information system, especially for veterans moving between or accessing multiple service providers (statutory and non-statutory), the common information collected by providers and information-sharing capabilities of the system, will mean that veterans will not be required to repeat their medical and military histories multiple times which can be traumatic, frustrating and time consuming.

Current plans are to pilot the CAF with the charity sector and selected NHS providers and then roll out the system to providers on a voluntary basis from April 2021, with a view to considering its use with new Op COURAGE contracts sometime after April 2022.

Quality and accreditation

Executive Lead: Royal College of Psychiatrists

Improved quality and accreditation of military mental health treatment providers will help members of the armed forces community identify and access service providers that are operating according to recognised best practice and agreed quality standards. Contact is working with the Royal College of Psychiatrists to develop the first sector-specific quality network and accreditation scheme for military mental health, the Quality Network for Veterans Mental Health Services (QNVMHS) which will be accompanied by an easily recognisable ‘quality mark’ so that those looking for treatment can quickly and easily identify whether the treatment providers they are considering have been quality checked.

A clinical advisory group for the network, comprising expert clinicians from the military mental health sector, has helped to draft the first set of quality standards that will be used to measure the quality of services offered by treatment providers. These are currently being tested in a 12-month pilot funded by the Department for Health and Social Care and NHS England & NHS Improvement. The ten pilot teams are drawn from the NHS in England, Scotland and Wales and charity/independent providers from across the UK. The pilot started in autumn 2020 and consists of a three month period of self-review and peer reviews, followed by the production of reports on each service for internal use and finally the publication of an overall, anonymised pilot report. At the end of the pilot, the quality standards will be reviewed and adjusted if necessary before the network is opened up to all UK military mental health teams that may want to participate from autumn 2021 onwards.

On 8 July, the network will host an online annual forum at which the findings of the pilot report will be presented, pilot teams will share their experiences of participating and relevant workshop sessions will be offered. The event will be open to all for a small attendance fee. If you or your team/organisation are interested in attending, please contact us for more information. 

Further details for teams and organisations interested in participating in the QNVMHS network from autumn 2021 will be shared in early summer 2021 but please do contact us if you have any queries, would like further information, would like to attend the annual forum on 8 July, or would like to receive sign-up details for joining the network in autumn 2021.

Data dashboard

Executive Lead: Ministry of Defence

Contact and the Ministry of Defence (MoD) are working on the development of a military mental health data dashboard. The aim is to present a complete picture of the strength and nature of demand, capacity and outcomes across all parts of the military mental health sector using all available data on veterans and serving personnel accessing clinical mental health treatment in the UK, including MoD, NHS and charity/independent providers, together with outcomes data and indicators of capacity. 

The intention is that the dashboard will be updated on a quarterly basis (where data allows) and circulated to those requiring an overview of emerging trends in military mental health. Editions of the dashboard to date have focused on available MoD and NHS data and work is currently underway with Contact charities Combat Stress, Help for Heroes and Walking With The Wounded to more fully incorporate their demand, capacity and outcomes data. Future editions of the dashboard which include this data will be shared and posted here when this work is complete. 

Research

Executive Lead: Northern Ireland Veterans’ Support Office

Contact work in the area of Research includes the monitoring of relevant recent and ongoing military mental health-related research and interpreting and reporting on it for the benefit of Contact projects, members, associates and the wider sector, as well as identifying and monitoring potential gaps in relevant research.

These are the specific roles of the Contact Research sub-group which consists of a selection of Contact Research Associates. The group has twelve members of which eight rotate annually and is currently chaired (for 2020-21) by Dr Alan Finnegan from the University of Chester’s Westminster Centre for Research in Veterans. The group meets quarterly and submits reports to Contact for review and discussion by members.

The group’s work so far has included identifying the following potential gaps in military mental health research which are currently being monitored and explored in further detail:

– Minorities’ access to healthcare
– Ageing veterans (especially women) and dementia 
– Service (distinct from war) widow/ers
– Families and children

Associate membership programme

Executive Lead: Togetherall

The Contact Associate membership programme has been introduced for Cobseo member organisations that can demonstrate involvement in the provision of mental health services or support to serving personnel, veterans or families (though this does not have to constitute core activity). The aim is to bring these organisations into the Contact Group as Associate members to complement Contact’s existing core membership. Membership is free of charge and Associates can benefit from involvement in Contact’s ongoing military mental health-related projects (when opportunities arise), consultations, information-sharing and other communications about Contact and the work of the wider sector, including the Contact quarterly newsletter.

Associate organisations are also featured on our Associates page where a summary of activities and useful links can be included. If your organisation is interested in joining as an Associate, please read the invitation letter and complete and email back an application form. If you have any queries about the scheme, please feel free to contact us. The programme is currently open to organisations that are members of Cobseo, and in future will be extended to others. Further information about this will be posted here when details are confirmed.

Communications

Executive Lead: Walking With The Wounded

Contact’s work in the area of communications is aimed at improving awareness, sector-wide and beyond, of Contact’s work and that of its members and associates through the use of various communications channels including the Contact website (the recent redesign and development of which has been funded by the Veterans Foundation), social media, newsletters and other information-sharing, and the hosting of both online and in-person events.

Since the first Covid-19 lockdown, Contact has been working with partners to help coordinate a series of regionally-focused online meetings for military mental health service providers. The aim is service information-sharing and networking, as well as signposting for beneficiaries. The first (pilot) meeting for SW England was hosted by Contact member Togetherall. The second and third meetings, both for NE England, were hosted by Contact member Walking With The Wounded. It is hoped that a third meeting for NE England will be hosted soon and current plans are that the next regions of focus will be East England and NW England. Further details will be shared as soon as they are confirmed. If you or your organisation are interested in co-hosting or participating in future online regional networking meetings for military mental health service providers, please contact us

Contact us

If you have queries about the work of the Contact Group or its membership, please email the Contact Project Officer, Anna Owen on: anna.owen@contactarmedforces.org.uk