Mental health trust leads the way for remote patient appointments

A mental health and learning disability NHS trust covering Sussex and Hampshire is the best performing trust within England for providing digital appointments for patients during the coronavirus lockdown, ensuring those that need extra support continue to receive it.

Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, which provides specialist mental health services to people of all ages across the south east, rolled out remote appointments through Attend Anywhere software on March 16. In the first nine weeks, the total number of digital consultations has topped 10,000.

More than 800 clinicians have already used digital software to interact with patients, across 131 of the Trust's services. The technology has been adopted by a full range of clinical services including adult and children's services, learning disability services, dementia care and forensic services, reducing the need for physical attendance at sites, protecting both patients and staff.

Dr Gurprit Pannu, Consultant Psychiatrist at Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust has been using remote appointments to keep in contact with patients. He said: "The use of digital software to carry out clinical appointments has meant a large number of patients continued to receive specialist mental health care and support at a time of uncertainty for many of them.

"Prior to the Covid-19 restrictions Sussex Partnership had introduced virtual consultations to a small number of teams in primary care mental health care and urgent care. Patients have been overwhelmingly positive about this new way of working, and they've been really receptive to new ways of getting support."

Jo Hillier, Sussex Partnership's Digital Clinical Lead, said: "The decision to introduce a new way of providing online care and support at the start of Covid-19 was taken to improve experiences for patients during an uncertain time. The Trust’s ambition was to increase the opportunities for adoption across our wide range of mental health services, including learning disability services, dementia care, services for children and young people and forensic services, and I am delighted we have been able to achieve this.

"We ensured roll out focussed on the user experience, weaving it into the project plan from the beginning. Virtual consultation technology has enabled the Trust to provide mental health care whilst reducing the spread of Covid-19 thus safeguarding service users, carers and our colleagues."

Case studies

"I've been stunned at how readily some users of our service have been willing and able to make a transition to digital provision of therapy. When every day involves discussing difficult and painful subjects, it's perhaps possible to get desensitised to how hard it can be for many young people to have the conversations we offer them. Being able to offer a platform that allows the conversation to take place in a more familiar, safer-feeling setting than a CAMHS clinic consulting room has been welcomed by several of my regular clients - especially many with neurodiversity. There are challenges both technically and clinically, but it's an additional tool that we will be keen to continue using together." Alex Christie, Basingstoke CAMHS nurse.

"Our digital offer presents a great opportunity to make family and friend carers part of our multi-disciplinary, team discussions, ward rounds and decisions during this covid19 pandemic and part of business as usual  going forward."  Jacqueline Clarke-Mapp, Carer leader 

"I found it really simple and easy to use.  Especially happy that the waiting room music was pleasant and not at all irritating.  Another good thing is that unlike other platforms  I wasn’t forced to look at a picture of my own face during the call (which can be really off-putting).  I also liked the fact that if something is too difficult to say, there is always the option of typing a few words into the chat box."  Anonymous Service User