Huge Surge in Online Mental Health Appointments Attacked by Specialists

Exclusive: New figures show almost ninefold rise in online mental health appointments over three years

Daniel Kraemer


This article has been re-shared from it’s original source, The Independent

People with depression and anxiety are increasingly being offered online therapy through the NHS’s flagship mental health scheme, using methods that one expert said “fly in the face of what it means to be human”.

New figures obtained by The Independent show an almost ninefold rise in webcam and instant messenger appointments through the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) scheme between 2012-13 and 2015-16, compared to a 144 per cent rise in overall appointments.

The number of appointments carried out this way in England rose from 5,738 to 49,475, suggesting NHS commissioners across the country are looking for alternatives to traditional face-to-face therapies.

Figures also show that a majority of assessments – where therapists make a judgement on the best form of treatment for the patient – are conducted over the phone.

The findings come after Theresa May announced extra funding for the development of digital mental health services in January.

The Government plans to give six mental health trusts £10m each to develop digital technology in mental health services. There will also be £3m spent on piloting digital Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) apps that are largely driving the increase in remote therapy.

One of the platforms being used by an increasing number of mental health providers is Ieso, through which patients talk to a therapist over an instant messenger system. The service is available in 37 commissioning areas in England – a number that has been doubling each year.

Two other rising stars in the NHS’s growing digital mental health arena are Big White Wall, which provides therapy over webcam as well as online peer support groups, and SilverCloud, a guided CBT programme that allows patients to complete computerised modules, which are monitored by a therapist who catches up with the patient over the phone.

Harry O’Hayon, manager at Let’s Talk, an IAPT service in Haringey, London, said SilverCloud has engaged people who would not access therapy otherwise.

He said: “Men, for example, tend to resist accessing psychological support due to the stigma or being viewed as weak. But they are sometimes prepared to do it in the private theatre of their home. Or there are people who can’t attend during working hours and would prefer to do it on a Sunday or at 10 o’clock at night.”