Background Despite all local authorities in England signing up to the Armed Forces Covenant, only a small proportion of Joint Strategic Needs Assessments (JSNAs) include detailed consideration of the health of the local ex-military population. This article supports improvements to JSNAs by systematically reviewing published research for evidence of differences in health between the ex-military population and the general public.
Methods Systematic review using the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses methodology for qualitative synthesis of mixed study designs. SCOPUS, PubMed and Google Scholar were searched for published research on health outcomes among UK ex-military populations. All study designs were included.
Results 43 studies met the inclusion criteria. Rates of mental illness and hearing loss are higher among ex-military populations compared with the general public, while rates of cancer among ex-military personnel born after 1960 are lower. Despite high rates of hazardous drinking among serving personnel, rates of alcohol-related harm among ex-military populations are no higher than the general public. There is a subpopulation at increased risk of a range of adverse outcomes. This group is variously identified as younger, male, less educated, more likely to have served in a combat role and/or left service early.
Conclusions This review found evidence of areas of increased and reduced disease burden among ex-military populations. More detailed information on the make-up of the local ex-service population would support more meaningful needs assessments. The Ministry of Defence and local authorities and service providers should work together to support early identification and targeted support for those at the highest risk of adverse outcomes.
- systematic review
- health needs assessment
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