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Martin Flint-Johnson holding a poppy appeal charity collection box

Airedale NHS Foundation trust has appointed a new Armed Forces Advocate – to provide information and support to patients, families and staff who are members of the Armed Forces community.

Ex-serviceman Martin Flint-Johnson joins the trust in a pilot role supported by the Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust.  It has been jointly funded by the Covenant Fund Trust and NHS England, awarding almost £2 million in 2021 to help support our most vulnerable ex-armed forces in acute hospital settings throughout the UK.

In the new role, Martin will work to identify and talk to ex-armed forces or serving personnel that come into the hospital and their immediate families to see if there is any additional support that could help them.  He will work with local communities, councils, support organisations and military charities, and raise staff awareness through training and communication on his role. Currently he is working with local Armed Forces Champions to address the social isolation for some ex armed forces in the Keighley area.

Martin’s parents and brothers all served in the armed forces and he himself served in the Army with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers for 10 years, on both active service and peacekeeping tours around the world. He is now in receipt of a War Disability Pension for physical ailments which occurred while serving and received support from the Hidden Wounds service for his mental health, providing him with a good understanding of the challenges some people from the Armed Forces community may experience.

For the past 10 years Martin has worked in social care, both for the substance misuse service in Bradford and supporting the street based community in Calderdale, for those who are rough sleeping or homeless.

Martin says:

“Ex-armed forces are a proud community who as a rule do not seek help until crisis. As a named Armed Forces Advocate for the Trust, I hope to remove some of the barriers for ex armed forces and their families while in Airedale and the local community.”

There is lots of support out there for ex-armed forces whether it be for a physical injury or health condition acquired as part of their service, or for mental health conditions such as depression or PTSD. Sometimes, all someone wants is to feel listened to by someone who understands military culture and language.

I recently referred one patient to the NHS OP Courage service, a mental health service specifically for military veterans. The patient was contacted the same day, received an assessment and subsequent 10 sessions of counselling support”.

Martin can also help with other aspects of health and wellbeing, recently supporting someone to claim their army pension. Many people who have left the forces don’t always know what support is available in Civvy Street and how to access it. Martin’s role will help to ensure that ex-armed forces personnel will receive bespoke support specific to their needs.

If you are a patient at Airedale Hospital or in the community, or a member of your family is and you have served in the Armed Forces, Martin is available to speak to, Monday to Friday, phone 07880 441352, email: martin.flint-johnson@nhs.net  and there is information on our website here.

Airedale NHS Foundation Trust has also been formally reaccredited as ‘Veteran Aware’ by the Veterans Covenant Healthcare Alliance (VCHA), a group of NHS healthcare providers in England committed to providing the best standards of care for the armed forces community, based on the principles of the Armed Forces Covenant. Airedale also holds Silver accreditation awarded by the Defence Employer Recognition Scheme which distinguishes organisations that pledge, demonstrate or advocate support to defence and the armed forces community, and align their values with the Armed Forces Covenant.

The Armed Forces Covenant – which recently passed into law – is a promise by the nation ensuring that those who serve, or who have served, in the Armed forces, and their families, are treated fairly.  The aim is to develop, share and drive the implementation of best practice that will improve armed forces veterans’ care, while at the same time raising standards for everyone across the NHS.

A ‘veteran’ is anyone who has served for at least one day in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces (Regular or Reserve) or Merchant Mariners and it is estimated that 10% of all patients seen by hospitals are ex armed forces.  In 2016 there were an estimated 2.5 million UK Armed Forces veterans and almost two-thirds were estimated to be aged 65+.  It is believed that 3-6% of the population are Ex Armed Forces, the Armed Forces Covenant includes immediate family, raising the number to approximately 10%.

Foluke Ajayi, CEO of Airedale NHS Foundation Trust, said:

“We are very pleased to welcome Martin to the trust and are proud of our Veteran Aware status.  The new advocate role and this important accreditation reflects the work we do across all our services to support and care for former and serving members of our Armed Forces.

It also demonstrates that we recognise the skills and experience of our own staff members who are ex-armed forces, and those who serve as reservists.  We strongly support the employment of the Armed Forces community in the NHS and we listen to our Armed Forces colleagues here at Airedale to understand how we can best support their needs.”

VCHA Regional Lead Lynsey Nicholson added:

“The re-accreditation process is an opportunity for Trusts to share lessons learnt over the previous three years. We encourage Trusts to speak to patients, families and staff, to learn from the lived experience of the military, and what it means as an employer and healthcare provider. “Airedale has demonstrated its continued commitment by training staff on the potential challenges experienced by the Armed Forces Community, creating meaningful relationships with local charities, and ensuring patients are identified at every step of their journey.  I look forward to celebrating their achievements over the next three years.“