The DoH has told GPs to push armed forces' personnel to the head of the queue in referrals for service-related injuries.
All military veterans - that is, anyone who has served for a day or more in the armed services - are now entitled to priority NHS treatment in England, Scotland and Wales.
Only veterans who had received a pay-out, disability assessment or army pension for their injuries were previously entitled to rapid referral on the NHS.
However, in a change of heart, the DoH has now ruled that everyone injured or made ill 'as a result of their service to their country should get priority access to NHS treatment, based on clinical need'.
GPs are expected to mention veteran status in the referral letter and judge whether the condition is service-related before moving former army personnel up the queue. In a long-standing degenerative condition, such as arthritis, this can be a matter of clinical judgment.
Duncan Milligan of the Fire Brigades Union said: 'This has almost certainly come about as a result of the cutbacks in hospital and medical facilities for the military. It is patching up a problem created by the government.
'Our experience with many of our members who are also army veterans is that they always prefer to be treated by military personnel familiar with the type of injury and appropriate recovery and, above all,they seek continuity of care.'
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