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Talking therapies tool could help patients get quicker treatment



Declining mental health has been a feature of the pandemic

Patients needing help through ‘talking therapies’ could get much quicker access to care through digital solutions.

They can get the right support faster thanks to a system which automates part of the initial clinical assessment.

Analysis by Ieso Digital Health last year warned of “an explosion” in the number of people being referred by their GP for treatment for anxiety, depression and obsessive compulsive disorder.

The sharp rise in people suffering psychological conditions during the pandemic has left England’s 54 specialist NHS mental health trusts struggling to cope.

The NHS has treated far fewer patients than usual since March 2020 under its Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme, which usually gives people face to face counselling.

Before Covid-19 struck about 150,000 people a month were referred to IAPT services in England, either by their GP or by seeking help directly themselves.

When lockdown began many NHS services were suspended and many people either became afraid to access care as normal or stayed away in order not to bother the NHS. Research by Ieso shows that in April – the first full month of lockdown – fewer than 60,000 referrals were made.

Some people didn’t seek a referral because they didn’t want to go to their GP, or decided not to make a fuss because the NHS was so busy.

But a tool which gather information on behalf of care providers could speed the system up and get patients into the right treatment in a more streamlined way.

Limbic Access was recently trialled across four Improving Access to Psychological Therapy programmes. After a month, 430 weeks of waiting time were saved.

Patients suffering from anxiety, depression or compulsive disorder typically wait an average of twenty two days for a clinical assessment.

After the assessment, patients can wait up to another forty five days to start treatment.

Care providers saved on average 20 minutes of time per referral by using the platform and cut 86 hours of clinical time overall, according to data.

Delays in clinical assessment have been a longstanding problem for Improving Access to Psychological Therapy, and on average takes up twenty five per cent of budget allocated by the NHS.

The assessments involve a one-hour phone call to screen the patient to check eligibility, collect basic information, risk assess and identify for the best care pathway.

Limbic’s Access platform – which integrates with the NHS API – enhances elements of the clinical assessment process to free up staff resources and reduce the waiting time for patients.

It automatically allows pre-screen incoming referrals, and either signposts to alternative services or identifies the right treatment within the service.

With patient referrals to IAPT services expected to triple, digital solutions will be key in easing pressure on mental healthcare services.

Following the pilot’s success, Limbic Access will look towards being implemented in a number of other IAPTs within Vita Health Group’s network.

Ross Harper, of Limbic said: “The need for quicker access to mental healthcare has never been more important. While our healthcare resources are being diverted to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re also facing a national mental healthcare crisis.

“Unquestionably, digital health needs to play a role in alleviating the pressure on mental healthcare professionals and speeding up patient access to support.”

Limbic’s platform has been designed with involvement from patients, clinicians, NHS AHSNs, and support from Innovate UK and the EU Commission. Our mission is to amplify the powers of clinicians to help tackle mental illness in the UK.

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