In this article, we discuss the struggle of NHS mental health support services to accommodate increased patient demand, and briefly touch on how the Cyferd Platform plans to improve current models of care in this area.
On October 10, we celebrate World Mental Health Day; a day for raising awareness and fighting the stigma surrounding mental illnesses globally. However, part of raising awareness includes taking stock of the current landscape and assessing what we can do to improve current offerings. This can also mean pinpointing inadequate areas to be able to improve the care patients receive worldwide.
Within the UK, it’s no secret that the NHS has been overburdened with a backlog of services, something that has undeniably been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Things have arguably reached a crisis point; a report from the Royal College of Psychiatrists found that “nearly 1.5 million people were in contact with mental health services in June 2021, the highest number since records began and 12.4% more than the same time last year” and that “NHS England now estimates that a staggering 1.6 million people are waiting for treatment from mental health services“. The Guardian also states that “record numbers of children and young people are seeking access to NHS mental health services”, highlighting how extreme the issue has become.
Moreover, this year’s theme for the global awareness day is ‘Mental Health In An Unequal World”, a topic which brings to light many of the inequalities that can exacerbate a lack of adequate support services. An article from ITV notes that “people living in the most deprived areas in England are 1.8 times as likely to experience a wait of over one year for hospital care compared with people from the most affluent”.
These statistics are troubling. Not only do they suggest the pandemic’s toll on mental health services within the NHS nationwide, but they are deeply concerning when considered with the fact that in the face of such backlog, crises can occur. Research from the Royal College of Psychiatrists notes the presence of a “hidden waiting list”, a length of time between an initial referral appointment and a secondary follow-up appointment. Research stated that there was a significant decline in mental health during this waiting period; 1 in 4 patients had to wait longer than three months and 1 in 9 patients had to wait longer than six months for a second appointment. Two-fifths of respondents stated that they had called emergency or crisis services while waiting for a second appointment; 1 in 9 patients ended up in A&E. This belies a worryingly reactive, rather than proactive approach; due to the backlog of NHS services, patients are having to wait until they reach a crisis point in order to receive help.
The NHS has called for increased funding to be able to tackle the support backlogs exacerbated by the pandemic. However, increasing funding while neglecting some of the root causes could mean this money is spent on adding more technical workarounds rather than simplifying how data interconnects. This could ultimately mean a lack of noticeable improvements to existing mental health support services, as issues are not resolved and are made more difficult to manage.
Many current issues lie within the backlog of paper-based and uncommunicative data. NHS Trusts currently use up to 400 different software systems for different areas; these systems fail to work together effectively, meaning that it’s difficult to consolidate important patient information efficiently. Clinicians are required to navigate complex systems, slowing down their ability to provide adequate patient care in a time frame that handles increasing demand.
What if there were a proactive, rather than reactive, patient-focused solution? Cyferd is currently working with the NHS to develop a consolidated platform wherein clinicians can better help patients with their mental wellbeing. Healthcare providers can build tailored digital healthcare solutions on the Cyferd Platform that can bring clinicians and patients closer together.
By using mobile apps to drive proactive digital interactions between healthcare providers and patients, clinicians can gather and review their patients’ data faster and from one central place. This allows them to identify trends related to mental health even outside of a consultation, with the aid of machine learning and automation that can predict changes to patient wellbeing.
Increasing patient engagement will improve the service provided, and in turn make it more efficient and available to more people. On this World Mental Health Day, we want to raise awareness about the issue and the solutions we can implement.