Seven trusts to drive digital mental health services with £35m investment

Seven trusts will become Global Digital Exemplars for Mental Health and receive a share of £35m to develop and roll-out innovtive technology for patient treatment, NHS England have confirmed

The investment will also be matched by the trusts in the scheme to go towards digital schemes for self-care and other treatments for those suffering from mental health problems.

The money will go towards a variety of schemes, including for the first time creating a real-time system that will allow all healthcare professionals involved in treatment to access their patient’s record from triage and initial assessment to transfer between services and follow up care.

Other trusts have plans to invest in specific schemes, including at Mersey Care to develop an app to anticipate and respond to serious self-harm and suicide, and Oxford Health is developing an online platform for people suffering from a variety of conditions to allow them to access tried-and-tested therapies on their computer of smartphone.

The chosen trusts, who were identified in the ‘Next Steps on the NHS Five Year Forward View’ report, but were subject to HM Treasury capital approval, will aim to use their success to set an example for the correct application of digital care for mental health across the whole NHS in the future.

The trusts receiving investment are:

  • Berkshire Healthcare NHS FT
  • Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS FT
  • Mersey Care NHS FT
  • Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS FT
  • Oxford Health NHS FT
  • South London and Maudsley NHS FT
  • Worcestershire Health and Care NHS Trust

It follows a similar announcement in November last year when NHS England said that £400,000 was being given to trusts to take part in the Digital Development Lab to improve mental healthcare. At last year’s NHS Expo, the DH also named 12 trusts as global exemplars to pioneer best practice and the use of technology across the NHS.

Professor Keith McNeil, NHS chief clinical information officer, said: “As clinicians, we must embrace technology to help us deliver the best care to our service users, just as it helps us in so many other areas of our lives.”

He also added that digital technology had the potential to transform people’s experience of mental health services and challenge the unacceptable boundaries between physical and mental health. 

“I am excited by this investment across a wide range of services and technologies and the opportunity it presents to provide both improved experience and outcomes for service users across the country,” said Prof McNeil.

And professor Tim Kendall, national clinical director for mental health at NHS England, stated that many mental healthcare providers across the country were already using technology to improve patient outcomes.

“Initiatives range from virtual appointments for people who feel more comfortable doing that than meeting face to face; or providing street triage teams to secure access to essential patient information via a tablet when they are called to support someone experiencing a mental health crisis,” he explained.

“This investment will help frontline staff and service users identify those opportunities for new service models enabled by digital technology that make a clear difference to peoples’ lives.”

After being awarded £5m funding to spearhead the development of digital technology to improve mental health care, John Short, CEO of Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS FT, stated that as a Global Digital Exemplar, the trust will build on its strong existing IT capability and expertise.

“This has seen the introduction of electronic patient records since 2011 and, more recently, the implementation of an electronic system for prescribing and administering medication and launch of a mental health mobile app, ‘Silver Linings’, to help young people who have experienced an episode of psychosis to manage their mental health and access support,” he said.

“We are delighted to have been recognised as an NHS leader in IT and excited about further developing our digital technologies to enable the best possible care to service users, both locally and nationally.”

Health leaders welcome investment

NHS Providers director of policy and strategy Saffron Cordery, a member of NHE’s editorial board, said that the money was a welcome boost to the trusts who were already leading the way in harnessing digital technology.

“At a time of severe financial pressure, they are committing resources to pioneering digital services,” she stated.

“They have recognised that digital technology has an important role to play in supporting service users with mental health problems, and in providing seamless care, for example by ensuring timely follow-up and continuity of care for people who have been discharged.  

“The announcement highlights the key role of mental health trusts in developing approaches tailored to individuals’ needs,” Cordery added. “It is vital that in time we see wider investment so more trusts have the chance to build on the benefits of these projects.”

And Ian Hulatt, professional lead for mental health nursing at the RCN, said he was happy to see the NHS putting money into developing its mental healthcare.

“The innovations being developed by these trusts are very welcome,” he said. “Real-time access both to patient records and treatment best practice could provide huge benefits to patients, their families, and the mental health nurses treating them.”

In particular, information sharing between healthcare professionals, patients and families could play its part in saving lives, Hulatt said. However, though the funding is a good step, it should not replace real solutions to staffing problems, he warned.

“Digital solutions must go hand-in hand with proper staffing levels,” explained the RCN lead. “While there are thousands of unfilled vacancies across the nursing workforce, mental health nursing in particular has seen a steep decline in recent years.

“The government urgently needs to attract nurses into mental health by reinstating student funding and scrapping the pay cap.”

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Michael Sharpe   12/04/2017 at 12:02

This is much needed investment. But please don't tell me that digital mental health is different from digital physical health - and that the systems will be incompatible.

A S   12/04/2017 at 22:17

An "app to anticipate and respond to serious self-harm and suicide"? Are they serious? If only it were that simple.

The Children's E-Hospital   27/04/2017 at 15:20

This fits very well with the strategy of the Children's e-Hospital who already have an App that has been launched. WOuld it worthwhile for the trusts that are involved in this project to discuss with the team at the Children's e-Hospital? [email protected]

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