“It helped me to be a little bit more confident and open up about my problems and feelings."
Service user

5milpeopleChatHealth is a safe and secure text messaging service that helps families and young people get in touch with healthcare professionals. First developed by school nurses at Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust (LPT), ChatHealth supports greater efficiencies within public health community nursing teams, with individual nurses able to provide for a greater number of service users. It is cost effective and uses technology millennials are familiar with, providing confidential and timely access to healthcare. People who need health advice and support do not need to wait for a nurse visit at and the service is completely anonymous meaning it reaches out to often seldom heard and vulnerable groups.

Benefits of this include:

  • Increased service reach/access – delivering 100 additional contacts every month
  • Overcomes the stigma or embarrassment of face-to-face consultation
  • Reaches underserved demographics  – e.g 1/5 adolescent male users compared to 1/10 in F2F clinics
  • Reaches more first time users across broader range of enquiries
  • Improved interagency working with police and social care
  • Improved staff efficiency
  • Positive user experiences.

Since launching in 2013, the availability of ChatHealth has grown from less than 5,000 users in four Leicestershire schools to nearly two million young people in England – almost one out of every three teenagers.  Additional messaging helplines are also offered to parents including the mums and dads of around 80,000 newborns every year.  Around 1,500 healthcare staff use the system to respond to 45,000 incoming messages annually.

The ChatHealth platform is predominantly used by community health teams supporting universal care. The majority of enquiries relate to emotional and mental wellbeing, including adolescent self-harming and low mood and maternal mental health. Some of these kinds of contacts can be significant from the point of view of safeguarding vulnerable service users and the ChatHealth model helps to safeguard risk. Other regular types of enquiries relate to adolescent sexual health, or new parents enquiring about infant health and development.

EMAHSN has supported ChatHealth since it won an innovation award in 2014, with activities such as intellectual property, marketing and communications and senior commercial guidance.

“It allows us to express ourselves in ways we couldn’t express to our friends – to know its confidential makes me open-up.”
Service user

Challenges / problems identified

ChatHealth is helping to safeguard vulnerable service users. Traditional ways of accessing healthcare to discuss sensitive issues can sometimes cause embarrassment or are inconvenient for people leading modern lives, or are inconsistently available throughout an area. Adolescents say that they can feel more comfortable/confident if they can talk about difficult issues by sending a discreet text-message and busy parents say it is convenient and a more appropriate way to ask quick questions.

Teams that implement messaging enquiries services say that they get more contact from more new service users across a broader range of issues. This is particularly relevant for certain “hard to reach” demographics, such as adolescent males, who are more likely to ask for health advice and help by sending a message compared with traditional forms of service access.

A well organised messaging enquiries service can also be an efficient way of working for teams that are already stretched, for example one duty nurse can support large populations of people, within existing capacity, delivering up to 100 additional contacts every month. Working in more traditional ways, it would require the appointment of two additional nurses to improve reach to the same level.

Actions taken

EMAHSN_ChatHealth_Image_2LowResThe East Midlands Academic Health Science Network (EMAHSN) took ChatHealth on as a major Industry and Enterprise project in 2015 and has been instrumental is developing the service nationally. ChatHealth was originally pioneered by Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust (LPT) and has made school nursing accessible to young people. EMAHSN has invested more than £100,000 into ChatHealth to encourage frontline teams across the UK to improve access to healthcare using digital platforms.

EMAHSN has continued to support ChatHealth, providing advice and assistance with areas such as intellectual property, marketing and commercial development. EMAHSN also sit on the ChatHealth Board.

Impacts / outcomes

With EMAHSN’s support, the team at LPT have successfully supported the set-up of ChatHealth messaging services in around 40 different areas.

  • Increased service reach/access – delivering over 60,000 contacts a year.
  • 97% of all enquiries received are wholly dealt with by messaging nurses, only the remaining 3% are triaged onward for more resource intensive targeted care.
  • Availability spread since 2015/16 across every region of England, and in Wales and Northern Ireland.from Leicester to Midlands, London, Home Counties, East of England, South Coast, South West, West Country, North West, Greater Manchester, North East and Yorkshire.
  • Showcased at Testbed events, high profile conferences and through peer reviewed publications.
  • Awarded a prestigious NHS Innovation Challenge prize in 2014.
  • Awarded a Nursing Times Award in the nursing in mental health category in 2020.
  • Supported as a high-impact innovation by the NHS Innovation Accelerator (NIA).
  • Showcased to the NHS national Director of Innovation, Research and Life Sciences in 2021

“Our new messaging system helps to safeguard students. We can even handle anonymous enquiries more safely which is useful because confidentiality is so important to young people.”

Dawn Batson, School Nurse, Judgemeadow Community College

“I am beyond proud to be working with a growing community of digital nurses and making ChatHealth available to over 5 million people, particularly throughout the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. The ongoing support of EMAHSN has been instrumental to our work.”

Caroline Palmer, Project Lead and Clinical Lead, Digital Health Transformation Service, LPT

Plans for the future

In addition to expanding recently launched ChatAutism and ChatMentalHealth, the team are waiting to learn the outcome of a collaborative bid supported by Kent Surrey and Sussex AHSN to support the implementation of ChatHealth in up to 5 Mental Health Support Teams across the UK.

Start and end dates

2014 – ongoing.

Contact for help and advice

Digital Health Transformation Service, Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust
E: lpt.teamdhts@nhs.net

Chris Taylor, Associate Director of Communications and Engagement
T: 07738 151041
E: chris.taylor@nottingham.ac.uk