In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, demand for NHS mental health support has reached an all-time high. Referrals for conditions such as depression and anxiety stood at 4.3 million by the end of 2021, and around 1.4 million people are still awaiting treatment.
With a predicted 10 million people expected to require support within the next five years, the pressure this demand will place on services cannot be understated. To tackle the growing crisis, the NHS must form a united front. The widespread collaboration that was pivotal to its pandemic response must be replicated in the face of this escalating mental health care crisis.
Barriers to success
A patient’s journey through mental health care is currently disjointed, disrupted and extremely hard to track. This is because treatment involves moving between an array of different services - from GPs and hospitals to community care providers and charities. Existing systems make communication and information sharing between these services difficult, and creating a cohesive long-term treatment plan is near-impossible.
Patient information - often paper-based, or held on non-interoperable digital systems - is hard for clinicians to get hold of. Continuity of care is therefore difficult to achieve. And for the patient, being shuttled between different services can significantly disrupt successful recovery.
Building channels for collaboration
We must address the broken communication systems that are perpetuating this, and form a more cohesive, collaborative mental health care response. By harnessing technology to connect teams and overcome siloes, we can support clinicians to work together and create a clearer path to recovery for their patients.
Providing mental health nurses, GPs and community care providers with access to advice and guidance from mental health specialists is key. Using secure, fully-integrated and interoperable tech platforms like Cinapsis SmartReferrals, we can support these clinicians to make more informed decisions on treatment pathways and treat a higher number of patients outside of hospital.
By connecting them with secondary care consultants, we can also help mental health nurses treat the physical conditions accompanying their patients’ mental health concerns - further reducing the need for transfer to other care services.
Opening these channels of communication will support wider collaboration across the NHS. For mental health care, it will help provide a united front against a tidal wave of cases.
The role that tech has to play
Tech is already proving to help reduce patient backlogs and join up care. Cinapsis SmartReferrals connects clinicians from across primary and secondary care via a mobile or desktop app. Through this, clinicians can share and receive advice and guidance - without the need for lengthy referrals or delays.
In One Gloucestershire ICS, Cinapsis has been used to reduce unnecessary referrals and treat more patients within the community. Avoidable outpatient appointments have already fallen by 70 per cent and A&E visits have been reduced by 83 per cent. By replicating this system across different Trusts, we can form a more connected, streamlined mental health care pathway, which speeds up access to treatment and reduces pressure on hospitals.
There’s no overestimating the power of technology to connect and drive collaboration across the NHS. As mental health demand rises and services continue to recover from the peak of the pandemic, we need to support new ways of working which promote more joined-up care. By streamlining channels of communication and making access to advice and guidance effortless, we can tackle the mental health care crisis together.