UK telco BT has set up a call centre and website for people suffering from depression, stress and anxiety.
The "eClinics" initiative aims to increase access to psychological therapies without the need for a face-to-face meeting, BT said.
Dr JS Bamrah, chairman of the British Medical Association's psychiatry committee, said depression is a serious illness and expressed concern about whether the centre would be staffed by properly trained consultants. "We need a lot more detail on how this will operate."
He said similar hotline services run by the Samaritans and SANE used trained staff to answer calls and refer people for clinical help.
Bamrah said clinical depression and stress are growing problems in Britain, with depression costing the country an estimated £9bn in 2000 in treatment and lost working days.
Quoting academic sources, he said recognition of depression in primary care units is low, even though up to 28% of women and 12% of men would suffer at least one depressive episode, and almost 80% of these would recur.
BT would manage a secure chat room and booking facility through its next-generation contact centre (NGCC). This would let mental health professionals host internet and e-mail-based therapy sessions, organise internet chat room discussions and manage interactions in a controlled environment, BT said.
Two clinicians will access and manage these services remotely using semi-rugged Toughbook laptops donated by Panasonic to test the system's capacity to let them work from the clinic or at home.
The one-year pilot in North Lincolnshire was a public private partnership between BT, the Rotherham, Doncaster and South Humber Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust (RDaSH), and the North Lincolnshire Council digital inclusion unit. Experts from the University of Sheffield will evaluate the project.