Mental health: NHS turns to digital and data to close ‘historic treatment gap’

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The NHS is to embark on a program through which it hopes to improve its use of digital technology and data to close the ‘historic treatment gap in the delivery of mental health care’.

National body NHS England and Improvement is planning to launch a four-month discovery exercise soon, during which it plans to undertake ‘various investigative work’ into how technology platforms and data sharing could – at the local level – be integrated into patient care pathways to mental health services.

According to a recently published commercial notice, this is in line with the ambitions put forward in the NHS long-term plan published in early 2019. This includes a desire to “support the development of digital care pathways” as well as the definition of a ” for mental health care providers to be connected to each other and to wider system partners” across the health sector.

The forthcoming exploratory program will also seek to build on developments arising from the social contact restrictions of the Covid pandemic, in which the use of digital health technologies (DHT) in NHS mental health services” rapidly increased.


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A dedicated digital mental health team from NHS England is now looking to “expand our understanding of how DHT is used in priority pathways and specific pain points in pathways”. The four-month program also aims to “improve understanding of the needs of different users”.

The ultimate intention is “to identify tangible opportunities for transformation to enable DHTs to deliver benefits to services [and] inform the design and implementation of meaningful transformation through these pathways”.

Alongside digital platforms, the NHS also wants to look at potential ways in which better data sharing could support improved mental health services. It’s an issue that represents “a critical but complex challenge” across the system, he said.

The discovery phase will include efforts to “build on the sharing of mapping data from past and current work” between care providers, as well as identifying any challenges in doing so. The research will also aim to better understand the “data needs” of service users.

Again, the goal is to come out of the exercise having identified opportunities for transformation and an idea of ​​how these might be achieved in the longer term.

The NHS is looking for a specialist digital provider to support its research during a four-month contract. A budget of up to £400,000 is available to be spent with the chosen contractor, with work due to start in December.

“There is a historic treatment gap in the provision of mental health care in England and we need to leverage the role that digital can play in enabling transformation to help the system fill this gap,” says the report. notice of contract.

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