Healthcare app Ask NHS and AI company Sensely have partnered to offer users access to mental health and physiotherapy services.

The partnership sees the introduction of virtual assistant technology to help users access the services during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a pilot at 18 NHS practices in Lewisham, London, some 50,000 app users where able to book their local physio services from the app without needing a referral from their GP.

It saw a threefold increase in the use of physiotherapy resources delivered without the need for input from other healthcare services. It saved a total of 150 hours of clinician’s time, according to a statement from Ask NHS.

Ryan Bartlett, clinical development manager at Pure Physiotherapy who took part in the pilot, said: “As a first contact physio I found working with Sensely very useful. I have been able to advise the patient to use the application to book directly back into my diary for a follow up appointment should they need further advice or guidance.”

Ask NHS also worked closely with the NHS Health Minds programme to improve access to mental health services. Using Sensely’s conversational artificial intelligence technologies patients were able to share their mental health concerns and automatically connect with local services.

Users can also access Health Minds resources including online articles, insomnia self-help tools and one-on-one consultations.

Kirsty Matthews, IAPT team manager at Healthy Minds, said: “During the pandemic, we’re offering a range of talking therapies and support virtually for people experiencing common mental health difficulties such as depression and anxiety.

“Working with Sensely Ask NHS has helped to ensure that people can be provided with the information and care they need quickly and easily.”

Adam Odessky, Sensely’s chief executive, added: “Sensely’s AI tools empower Ask NHS users to self-manage their healthcare during the Covid-19 crisis, while reducing the risk of infection and easing the strain on hard-working doctors and nurses.

“Now more than ever, we need to ensure that people can access the physiotherapy and mental health support they need — and the Ask NHS app is the easiest and quickest way for patients to take charge of their healthcare journey.”