Almost a quarter of people (23%) responding to a survey have said their mental health worsened as a result of accessing NHS support over the phone or online during the pandemic.
The survey, which was published today (28 April) by Mind charity, reviewed the experiences of 1,914 people being offered and using support from the NHS for their mental health remotely.
Over a third (35%) said they found treatment provided over the phone or online was difficult to use, the report said, with nearly two in three (63%) saying they would have preferred face-to-face support.
Meanwhile, a number of respondents told Mind of instances where login details for different appointments were shared by mistake.
The report said that accidental administrative errors such as this can ‘reduce a person’s confidence in the system’.
The survey also found that a third (34%) of patients had felt concerned about confidentiality when accessing treatment online.
It also found that difficulties with online platforms led to some appointments being ‘cancelled or abandoned’, with respondents stressed by warnings that non-attendance ‘caused by technology problems might mean that therapy was withdrawn’.
The report said that although there were too few responses from people from minority ethnic backgrounds to draw full conclusions, it appeared that they were ‘more positive about the impact phone and online compared to their white peers’.
More than half of minority ethnic participants (54%) also felt their mental health got better after receiving remote support, compared to 39% of white participants, the survey found.
Create support pathways
The report made a number of recommendations, including that service providers should work to identify people in their communities who may be digitally excluded from remote services and ensure support pathways are in place.
They must also ‘explicitly’ ask a patient how they might prefer to access mental health services, Mind said, and provide reassurance on confidentiality and privacy to those users who choose to receive care remotely.
It added that service providers should routinely seek feedback from service users about their experiences.
The charity also said that services must be culturally appropriate, with ‘effective and appropriate’ translation services in place. Services should also assess how effective different methods of delivery are for different communities.
NHS told to open a review
Mind also recommended that NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE&I) conduct a review into which patients are declining remote support, to improve understanding of the impact remote NHS services will have on different groups.
NHSE&I should also work with the Advancing Mental Health Equalities Taskforce to review the impact of remote provision of these services on people from minority ethnic backgrounds, the charity said.
Similarly, it recommended that NHS Digital analyse who is using different mediums, by ethnicity, gender identity and age.
It added that an analysis by ethnicity is ‘particularly important’ as some small-scale data is ‘indicating that people from Minority Ethnic communities may be seeking to access mental health services through non-traditional routes that are not face to face’.
Online therapy not a ‘cheap fix’
Geoff Heyes, head of health policy and influencing at Mind, said that online therapy should not be seen as a quick solution to growing care backlogs.
He added that online therapy cannot be seen as an ‘easy answer to fixing growing pressures on overstretched mental health services’ as pandemic restrictions ease.
‘We know our hardworking NHS staff have done an amazing job during such a difficult time, and we don’t want people to be deterred from asking for the help they need. But it is worrying that one in four of those we surveyed said their mental health had worsened because of accessing NHS treatment remotely,’ he said.
‘At the very least, people should expect their mental health to stay the same, if not improve.’
Figures published earlier this year showed almost 2.9 million people were in contact with secondary care mental health services in England in 2019-20.
This story first appeared on our sister title, Management in Practice.