Today, NHS England is launching a pilot programme on NHS Choices to promote digital mental health options to the public. Big White Wall is proud to have been chosen as one of the five inaugural services in this pilot.
The fact that NHS Choices is running this project is truly exciting - Choices is arguably one of the NHS' biggest digital success stories, getting 42 million visits a month, with over 19 million of these to its depression and anxiety pages alone. It's helped millions of people find trusted, helpful information on over 800 health conditions and treatments, as well as directing them to local NHS services.
Creating a reliable and effective website of this type is no small feat, but will become increasingly important as more and more people search for health information and support online. As we wrote recently in an article in the British Journal of General Practice, 'many patients expect to be able to find help online, and if they are not signposted to high quality, evidence-based services there is a danger that search engines will lead them to places that are unhelpful or even dangerous.' Creating safe places where people can find health information is crucial.
But the next step must be connecting information to access. Many of the people searching for mental health information online via NHS Choices would likely be interested in accessing digital support for mental health issues. This pilot project helps create these links, so someone searching for information on say, depression, can see if they are able to access an online service that can support them with this issue almost instantly. This helps create choice, and could help reach some of the estimated 25% of individuals with mental health symptoms who don't share these issues with their GP.
This isn't about replacing local services, but augmenting existing provision and helping people find what digital options are available. And it might be particularly valuable for those who struggle to access bricks-and-mortar services due to barriers such as mental health stigma, lack of suitable transport options, or difficulties finding childcare.
In many areas of the country, Big White Wall's 24/7, safe and anonymous support is available via online self-referral, so people can easily refer themselves to the service. Big White Wall is free to around 27% of UK adults, via the NHS, universities and employers. Thanks to the MoD, the Department of Health and Help for Heroes, it's also free to all UK serving personnel, veterans and their families. And there are four other excellent digital services in the pilot alongside Big White Wall, so this digital mental health and wellbeing service coverage extends still further and includes multiple options. The pilot also includes SilverCloud, Ieso Digital Health, Ultrasis and CCBT Limited, with more services to be added in the coming weeks.
The National Information Board's Personalised Health and Care 2020 promised a 'framework for action' on the use of digital technology in the NHS, to 'transform outcomes for patients and citizens' in a way that 'puts people first'. We see this NHS Choices pilot as a great step forward in this direction, delivering on the NHS' ambitions to become a 'digital pioneer', extending tried and tested digital health services direct to the public.