NHS England has launched an online library of programmes and apps to support people with mental health conditions.
The library, launched yesterday, contains a list of digital tools endorsed by the NHS for use in clinical practice with an initial focus on depression, anxiety and improving access to psychological therapies.
It is available on the NHS Choices website and adds to the site’s existing health apps library, which recommends smartphone and tablet apps on healthy living, health information and several specific conditions.
NHS England said mental health was chosen as the first area of focus due to the growing evidence base demonstrating that online tools can be effective in mental health treatment, helped by the flexibility of online services and greater discretion for people who want privacy.
At launch, there are five recommended digital tools contained in the library, all of which have demonstrated in trials that they are an effective treatment option in mental health.
The tools include online self-help courses based on cognitive behavioural therapy, a live CBT instant messaging service, and an online community message board for people to discuss their experiences.
NHS England described the library as the “first experiment” in the work being done by the government’s National Information Board to improve access to digital services in the NHS, such as the creation of a group to develop a "kitemarking" process for regulating and accrediting healthcare apps, as well as digital services and associated mobile devices.
NIB chairman Tim Kelsey, who also serves as NHS England’s director for patients and information, said that digital platforms “have a key role to play in improving access to psychological therapies”.
“We want to offer people the chance to use apps and digital tools routinely to help them take control of their own healthcare.
“There are online services already working for patients and we hope, by giving them our official backing, we will give clinicians, citizens and carers the confidence to use them,” he said.
The library was also welcomed by deputy prime minister and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, who this month announced £1.25 billion of new funding for children's mental health services as part of the Budget.
“I know there is much left to do [on mental health], which is why innovative pilots like this are so important, helping to provide treatment and support for those experiencing mental health crises,” Clegg said.
“This showcases the NHS at its best – pioneering new ways of treating and supporting some of the most vulnerable in our society, harnessing innovative technology to help build a fairer society for us all.”
Kelsey is not alone in promoting wider use of digital and mobile technology within the NHS.
At a meeting at the King’s Fund last week NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens described smartphones as the “single most important health treatment and diagnostic tool at our disposal over the coming decade”.