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NHS England highlights digital in mental healthcare



Authority provides funding incentive for development and adoption of innovative projects

NHS England has put out a call for projects using digital technology to support mental healthcare, with the promise of shares from a £400,000 development pot to speed up adoption.

It said six to eight innovations will be chosen to take part in the Digital Development Lab programme, for which it provides funds. Each will be given seven months for developing the solution with the possibility of being endorsed and nationally promoted by NHS England.

The move reflects a feature within the Mental Health Five Year Forward View, published last February, which forecast a significant role for digital technology in major changes for mental health services.

This said there are already a number of apps supporting mental healthcare, and that the community on social media and in voluntary organisations has reported heavy demand for digital services.

Effectiveness judgement

Juliet Bauer, director of digital experience at NHS England, said: “There are lots of digital technologies claiming to help people manage their mental health but it is hard for practitioners to assess their effectiveness and their safety for use.

“Using this fund we can rapidly develop and scale currently available, evidenced based tools. The Lab’s successes will mean more people can manage and care for their mental health using a set of high quality, evidence based and safe digital tools with NHS endorsement.

“We’re particularly interested in tools that support the mental health of young people and families. This might include more self-care at home, managing conditions before they escalate and building mental resilience.  It also means NHS commissioners will be able to update or newly commission digital products for their population with confidence.”

NHS England laid out some conditions for applicants, saying the type of innovation must: already have an existing user base; be a standalone tool (i.e. not require integration with a clinical pathway); and not include advertising.

It should also address one of a group of key issues: early intervention and improving access, parenting, perinatal health, transitions to adulthood, and employment, education and training.

In addition to funding, the successful applicants will receive help in the form of evaluation tools and support to generate evidence, access to mentoring on the development, and support from a group of digital innovator peers.

Image from Alachua County, CC BY 2.0 through flickr


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