The Breaking Free Online programme is to be piloted in prisons, as part of a government ‘virtual campus’ to give prisoners access to life and employment skills.

Clive Bawden, Breaking Free Group’s commercial director, told EHI that the substance misuse and mental health programme is the first health intervention to be included on the ‘Gateways’ platform, which is being piloted in ten prisons in the North West.

The Gateways initiative is designed to provide skills for prisoners leaving custody. Importantly, prisoners who create a Breaking Free Online account in prison will be able to use it when they are released; as long as they have access to the internet.

“At the moment, people may receive person to person counselling while they are in prison, but when they are released that stops,” Bawden said. “However, they will be able to continue to use this programme.

“The government like this, because prisoners often party when they are released, and end up overdosing or ending up back inside. The benefit of our tool is that it can be used in prison and beyond the prison gate, to try and stop that happening.”

Breaking Free Online was launched in 2010. It won the ‘best use of social media in healthcare category’ of the EHI Awards 2012 and is now being used by 60 local authorities and several treatment service providers.

The programme uses audio, video, text and practical exercises to support those worried about substance misuse.

Each user creates an individual diagram of the issues that keep their substance misuse going, and then works through practical exercises to tackle those issues.

Bawden said the only change the group had been asked to make for the prison trial was to customise the maps that users can build to indicate places they should avoid.

The Gateways initiative is being implemented by the Ministry of Justice National Offender Service and will be piloted for around two years.

Bawden said he hoped it would be rolled out nationally, and that Breaking Free Online’s success in winning a place on the platform would open the way for other online health interventions to reach into prisons.