The NHS has been under considerable pressure as a result of COVID-19, caused by the combined effects of an increase in demand for many services, coupled with high levels of staff absenteeism.
Although the worst of the pandemic may be behind us - with latest figures from NHS England revealing that waiting lists are beginning to fall for the first time in over two years - there is still considerable work to be done before services return to pre-pandemic levels.
Mental health services are among those which have faced unprecedented challenges since the onset of the pandemic. NHS Digital recently reported that mental health services are facing “previously unseen” numbers of referrals for conditions including anxiety and depression, with a staggering 1.4 million people still awaiting treatment.
The NHS Long Term Plan has made additional funding available to address the mental health backlog, and sets out ambitious targets to address the current shortfalls in mental health provision and ensure that everyone in need of mental health support has access to it.
One of the ways in which the NHS Long Terms Plan envisages the transformation of mental health services is through digitisation. The plan outlines a number of measures which prioritise technology to support the work of mental health professionals, whilst improving transparency and communication for service users. These include:
- Mental health providers to meet required levels of digitisation
- NHS systems to offer a range of self-management apps, digital consultations and digitally-enabled models of therapy
- Digital clinical decision-making tools to be used by clinicians.
In line with the NHS Long Term Plan and in response to the demands of an increasingly tech-savvy population, a greater reliance on digital tools and remote monitoring will be a key characteristic of mental health care moving forwards.
Mental health professionals are already adapting to this new landscape, and embracing this unique opportunity to develop new ways of working and supporting patients in the community.