Clinical Lead Caroline Palmer is one of the original nurses involved in the development and roll-out of the safe and secure messaging platform, ChatHealth. The award-winning text messaging service is available to more than 2.8 million young people and the parents and carers of over 2.6 million children in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, providing sexual health, perinatal mental health and young people’s mental health services.
To mark Mental Health Awareness Week (10-16 May) and International Nurses Day 2021, which falls during the same week, Caroline reflects on the increased demand and impact of digital healthcare services during the pandemic.
First developed by school nurses at Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust (LPT), ChatHealth is completely anonymous, meaning it reaches out to often seldom heard and vulnerable groups.
Alongside other digital health tools, including the websites, healthforteens.co.uk healthforkids.co.uk and healthforunder5s.co.uk, ChatHealth has helped to improve health and wellbeing outcomes for thousands of young people, children and families during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Incoming ChatHealth messages during this time increased by 50% and the range of reasons why people sought emotional health support also increased, with service users expressing worries exacerbated by the pandemic.
Recent feedback showed that 90% of service users said ChatHealth was beneficial. One service user said: “I felt listened to and I felt like I wasn’t being judged for feeling the way I do. It was very helpful.”
Increased demand for new messaging services
We’ve seen a huge increase in the number of healthcare organisations wanting to launch a ChatHealth messaging service in their area to serve young people and families. We’ve helped to launch three times more new messaging services in 2020 than we did in previous years. The pandemic meant that many face-to-face appointments were reduced. ChatHealth has allowed many service users to still access support from healthcare professionals during this time.
We’ve connected with 14 of the 15 AHSNs and have achieved 100% uptake in public health services in the East Midlands and East of England.
Our perinatal mental health service has grown and is being used by LPT as ‘Mum’s Mind’, and is currently being deployed to another perinatal mental health service team.
Donna Stafford, LPT Perinatal Mental Health Team Lead said: “Mum’s Mind continues to provide essential support for women across Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland. We have seen an increased demand for the service since the coronavirus restrictions were put in place and we have been able to provide mental health support and advice to women and their families.
“As we would expect, there has been an increase in reported anxiety symptoms and emotional distress in response to the impact of coronavirus. We will continue to ensure that this text messaging service remains available.”
Service user: “For someone to say, ‘You know what? I’m not enjoying this, this isn’t going how I thought or I’m worried that I’m going to regret becoming a mum’, is a huge taboo.
“You can message a trained professional and know they’re going to get back to you in 24 hours and give you support, advice and they’re not going to judge you.”
An award-winning innovation
In 2020, we were able to celebrate with all our ChatHealth nurses after being named winner of the Nursing in Mental Health category at the Nursing Times Awards. Winning this prestigious award means so much to us – ChatHealth nurses offer mental health and wellbeing support day in, day out and it’s wonderful for them to be recognised in this way.
Breaking down barriers
During these unprecedented and difficult times, we’ve been honoured to work with so many incredible healthcare professionals across the UK. The coronavirus pandemic has removed many of the persistent blockers that prevented transformative change in the NHS and allowing services to embrace digital technologies such as ChatHealth to improve service access. It’s presented an opportunity to adapt our implementation processes in ways we may not have otherwise considered, to meet social-distancing requirements.
In our aim to provide ubiquitous access to ChatHealth for young people and families, we are seeking interest from healthcare providers looking to make potential service transformation in areas such as young people’s mental health, adult mental health, perinatal mental health, school nursing, health visiting, sexual health, drugs and alcohol and weight management to name but a few.
To find out more about ChatHealth, visit www.chathealth.nhs.uk