Mental health: NHS looks to digital and data to close 'historic treatment gap'

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


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The NHS is to embark upon a program through which it hopes to improve its use of digital technology and data in order to close the “historic treatment gap in mental health provision”.

National body NHS England and Improvement is shortly planning to launch a four-month discovery exercise, during which it plans to undertake “multiple investigatory pieces of work” looking at how tech platforms and data sharing could – at a local level – be incorporated into care pathways for patients accessing mental-health services.

According to a recently published commercial notice, this ties in with the ambitions put forward in the NHS Long-Term Plan published in early 2019. This includes a desire to “support the development of digitally enabled pathways of care” as well as setting out an “integration agenda for mental health providers to be connected with each other and the wider system partners” across the healthcare sector.

The upcoming exploratory program will also seek to build on developments that came about as a result of the social-contact restrictions of the Covid pandemic, in which the use of digital health technologies (DHTs) in NHS mental-health services “rapidly increased”.


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A dedicated Digital Mental Health team at NHS England is now looking to “extend our understanding of how DHTs are used across priority pathways and specific pain-points in pathways”. The four-month program is also intended to “improve understanding of needs from 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 delivery of meaningful transformation across these pathways”.

Alongside digital platforms, the NHS also wishes to examine potential ways in which better data sharing could support improvements to mental-health services. This is an issue which represents “a critical but complex challenge” across the system, it said.

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

Once again, the aim is to emerge from the exercise having identified possibilities for transformation, and an idea of ​​how these could be delivered in the longer term.

The NHS is seeking a specialist digital supplier to support its research over the course of a four-month contract. A budget of up to £400,000 is available to spend with the chosen firm, with work scheduled to commence in December.

“There is a historic treatment gap in mental health provision in England and we must take advantage of the role digital can play in enabling transformation to help the system close that gap,” the contract notice said.

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