Mental health network

Invest in digital mental health services to improve care, says Mental Health Network

Rebecca Cotton

Patient care in England would be improved if more mental health services were given access to significant levels of dedicated funding to support digital innovation. 

That is one of the recommendations made in Using digital technology to design and deliver better mental health services, published today by Rebecca Cotton, director of policy at the Mental Health Network, the voice for NHS-funded mental health and learning disability service providers in England. 

The report was informed by research in Australia and the US and includes interviews with more than 50 people working in over 25 organisations about their work. 

A standout example of good care is eheadspace, the Australian national digital delivery service for youth mental health. It provides an online and telephone support and counselling to young people aged 12–25, their families and friends and functions as a portal to further support, allowing people to access the correct services. 

Ms Cotton said: “Mental health services in the UK are facing unprecedented challenges. Finances continue to be constrained and demand for existing services continues to rise.  

“There is a critical role to play for NHS England and others to both make resource available to support innovation and create the circumstances for adoption and spread. 

“Time is pressing. The opportunity is here to capitalise on the potential digital technology offers us. We can ensure more people have access to high-quality treatment, advice and support. We can ensure more people have a positive experience of using mental health services and are empowered to take control of their own recovery.”  

The report’s recommendations are: 

  • NHS England should significantly expand its current Global Digital Exemplars programme to make learning accessible to all.
  • As part of the programme, more mental health services should be given access to significant levels of dedicated funding to support digital innovation. 
  • NHS England should consider developing and articulating a national vision for digital mental health. 
  • NHS England, the NHS Digital Academy and Health Education England should ensure that NHS workforce and development strategy appropriately considers the impact digital technology is having, and will continue to have, on the future NHS.
  •   NHS England should give consideration to whether there is a case for certain e-mental health services to be commissioned at a national level.
  • Providers of NHS mental health services should consider how best they might leverage digital technology in their organisation: 

a.  As part of any service redesign work, considering how digital technology could help improve outcomes and reduce cost.  

b.  Consider how other digital services could help improve the overall experience of service users (eg through online appointment booking).  

c.  Think about how digital services could help support service users in terms of their wider recovery (eg online psychoeducation, crisis planning apps) and also improve information and support for carers.

d.  Explore how they currently approach supporting innovation in their organisation, and consider whether establishing an in-house innovation unit might be appropriate in their case.

e.  Consider how best clinicians can be supported to make use of monitoring apps and tools with service users where appropriate.

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