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North Staffordshire NHS trust rolls out mental health platform for young people

Digital portal enables young people to self-refer to local mental health services, giving them easier access to support and reducing waiting times

North Staffordshire Combined Healthcare NHS Trust has rolled out a digital portal that allows young people to self-refer to mental health services.  

The portal, from DXC Technology, also gives children and young people answers to common questions about anxiety and isolation, as well as access to mental health professionals.

Julia Ford, clinical lead for child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) at the trust, said the portal is about getting children the right information and referring them to the right professional first time, “and much faster”.

“At present, seven in 10 referrals to CAMHS are subsequently signposted to external organisations, while many young people are forced to wait up to 14 weeks to be seen,” said Ford. 

“We are redesigning and connecting services to change that, to remove lengthy processes that are traditionally associated with referrals, and using technology so we can intelligently refer and triage patients to the most appropriate service for them.” 

The project to introduce the portal analysed real-life interaction with the services, and involved collaboration with schools, young people, families and mental health staff. The portal was designed together with staff at the trust, using the DXC Open Health Connect Platform, and provides alerts to clinicians via their electronic patient records (EPR), giving them a complete picture of the patient while also ensuring the patient is seen by the most appropriate professional for their needs.

There are already plans in place to expand the platform across other areas of the country, and learnings from the project are being shared through two national programmes, including the cross-government greenpaper Transforming children and young people’s mental health provision.

The trust’s CIO, David Hewitt, said the portal has the potential to reduce avoidable harm “and transform lives for young people across North Staffordshire, and potentially across the rest of the country”.

He added: “No child should have to wait for mental healthcare provision – and this new approach is empowering patients to call on that help when they need it through technology that is intuitive for them.

“Whether it’s a professional at the trust, or a specialist in the third sector, we now have the tools to get young people to the person who is best placed to help them faster than ever before. And when children arrive, professionals are now much better equipped with detailed information from the child and the people who know them best, so that the first appointment can be about treatment, rather than information-gathering. This is enormously powerful.”  

In 2019, NHSX began a discovery process aimed at transforming the provision of mental health services for children and young people.

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