By Kathy Roberts, CEO of the Association of Mental Health Providers and the current Chair of the Care Provider Alliance.
Mental health and learning disability services in England – from psychological therapies through to day services – have all traditionally been delivered face-to-face. However, like many other care services, the impact of the pandemic meant mental health care and support providers had look to remote methods to deliver their services.
This rapid transformation meant a need for new digital tools within mental health services, but it has been challenging for both the mental health workforce and people who access those services.
Leave no-one behind
While digital mental health services have risen, and have rapidly accelerated to ensure individuals who need services continue to access the support they need, when they need it, in an increasingly digital world anyone not engaging, or unable to engage via the internet is at risk of being left behind and further isolated.
Alongside internet usage, the importance of digital skills – the ability to be able to navigate and effectively engage in an increasingly digital world must not be underestimated, and it cannot be assumed these skills are universally owned; in the UK Consumer Digital Index 2020, an estimated 9 million (16 per cent) are unable to use the internet and their devices independently.
Supporting people to have the skills and confidence they need to use digital services is an essential role for social care providers, particularly during this pandemic. In order to include those who are at risk of being left behind, The Association of Mental Health Providers have collaborated with the NHS Confederation’s Mental Health Network to produce a digital inclusion guide. This provides practical tips for mental health providers, both the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) sector and NHS, to make their digital mental health services more inclusive.
Digital inclusion is more than ensuring laptops or tablets are available for people; is also about providing the skills to use technology, access to the internet, and making sure the technology is easy to implement.
The new guide also enables providers to evaluate where they are now in terms of digital inclusivity and sets out practical steps for improvement, based on existing good practice and ideas from those who provide and also access services.
Increasing digital skills gives people the confidence to use other types of technology including Digital Assistants such as Google Home or Amazon Echo; whether it’s setting reminders to take medication, control things in the home such as lighting or heating, or keeping in touch with family and friends these can help people live more independently.
Digital inclusion in the workforce
For many providers, the use of digital as a method of delivering mental health services is a new and different experience of support. While they may use technology and digital tools in their personal life, translating that into delivering high-quality, consistent care does not come without its challenges and having to rapidly adapt to new technology and for some, whilst working from home.
VCSE and social care providers should ensure staff are aware of the support available to them and their service users and that adjustments are made to encourage inclusion.
Reflecting on the provider’s own progress is an important step towards services and organisation more digitally inclusive, both for individuals who use services and the staff delivering them.
For further provider assistance across digital services visit Digital Social Care
Pull out box: case study
Imagine Independence is a Liverpool-based charity that enables and supports people to live full and independent lives.
In response to COVID-19, the charity knew digital exclusion was a significant factor for about a third of the people it supports, and was exacerbating the loneliness and social exclusion many faced before COVID-19 due to their mental illness.
After securing funding from the National Lottery Community Fund for the Building Up Stronger project, the charity adapted its existing model of social prescribing for physical needs to work in the digital space and tackle digital exclusion issues people faced.
The project supported people to get online and worked with them to identify the best way to do this. This included providing a device on loan, linking them to training or other community-based support, or connecting them with a volunteer to provide one-to-one support to help them gain confidence and improve their digital skills.