Health trust proposed offshoring mental care through Skype

Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust considered cutting costs by using Skype and low-cost staff to treat patients with depression

Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT) put forward a proposal to cut costs by using Skype and staff in low-cost countries to provide treatment for patients suffering depression.

According to the BBC, the health trust put the idea to the government in a report, but this was later dismissed.

The plan was in a successful application to the government to pay consultants to look into new ways of running the trust.

A Unison representative at the trust said the report showed that whoever did the application did not have a very clear understanding of the work frontline staff do or the way face-to-face therapy works.

“We want a skilled and well-paid workforce here and we should not be looking for outsourcing workers with poor working conditions and wages,” the spokesperson said.

Gary Page, chairman of NSFT, said it was just a “highly speculative idea” and part of the organisation's thought-gathering process, “with absolutely no commitment to any of those becoming initiatives that the trust would wish to consider or put in place”.

A spokesman for the Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk & Suffolk said: “That NSFT could even consider Skype shows how little the board understands of the work of its staff and the needs of its service users.”

IT-enabled business processes are carried out offshore for many public and private sector organisations in the UK. 

The NHS Shared Business Service, for example, which provides back-office Oracle-based IT services to hundreds of NHS organisations, has a lot of the work carried out in Pune, India, as part of an outsourcing deal with Steria. 

But using technology to offshore work carried out by medical professionals would be new territory.

The Public and Commercial Services (PCS) general secretary Mark Serwotka recently called for the Metropolitan Police to scrap a plan that would see sensitive information processed by civilians. 

This is in relation to the Met’s plan to outsource human resources, payroll and procurement divisions through a business process outsourcing deal with a joint venture between the government and French IT service provider Steria, known as Shared Services Connected Ltd (SSCL). 

“We do not believe the often sensitive work done by civilian staff in the Met Police should be handed to a private company and these plans should be scrapped,” said Serwotka.

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