The Department of Health and NHS England should create a national strategy for e-mental health and invest in a national programme to support this, says a report by NHS Confederation.

The report, entitled ‘The future’s digital – mental health and technology’, surveyed the members of the Confederation’s Mental Health Network about their current use and plans for utilising technology.

It found that although organisations were clear that technology could be used to improve patient care, there was a lack of a sense of “future vision and the right skills” in the workforce.

“Our existing ways of evaluating new products and services, and ensuring their safety, are too slow to enable our services to keep up with the pace of technological change we see all around us,” says the report.

It says that although there are “fantastic examples across the country”, these need to be learned from and adopted across the board.

“However, there are some common problems it makes sense to tackle at a national level, under the banner of the development of a national strategy for e-mental health,” it adds.

“We believe a national strategy for e-mental health, co-developed and co-owned by national bodies, should be developed in 2015-16.

“In support of this, the Department of Health should include this objective within the next NHS Mandate, making clear the key role NHS England has in the development and implementation of the strategy.”

The report calls on several organisations, including Public Health England, the Care Quality Commission, Monitor and Health Education England, to collaborate on the strategy.

It also says the document should detail how workforce, commissioning, governance, investment, innovation and public health should be addressed.

It further recommends the creation of a new payment mechanism in conjunction with Monitor to take into consideration “alternative models of service delivery.”

“The strategy should be published with a clear programme for implementation support, setting out how the DH, NHS England, PHE and other national partners will continue to support progress over a five-year period,” says the report.

It also calls for an e-mental health framework to be created, saying: “We need a robust and speedy framework for evaluation for their application, quality, safety and integrity. There is a considerable gap around this, and bridging that will require concerted national effort.

“The potential for leveraging digital technology better in the way we design and deliver NHS mental health services is huge.”

The report, which surveyed 64 Mental Health Network member organisations, only had a response from 15. However, the report argues that this still provides “some useful insights into the level of digital maturity that currently exists in the sector”. 

None of the organisations said they had enabled online appointment booking, but 50% said they provided “options to access services remotely, for example by telephone.”

Respondents also said that barriers that were “hindering greater use of digital technology” included financial constraints, IT supplier problems, connectivity and IT literacy among staff and service users.