Can technology tackle the lack of therapists? – Med-Tech Innovation

Lorenzo Antonucci loreanto –

Psychotherapy session, woman talking to his psychologist in the studio

To address the overwhelming need for mental health services in the UK, we need trained therapists available to deliver appropriate care at the right time. The trouble is, we’re facing a shortage.

The UK Council for Psychotherapy put out a statement saying that more psychotherapists are needed in NHS workforce to meet UK’s looming mental health crisis. Therapists are leaving the NHS, citing reasons including an overwhelming workload, burnout, and too much time spent on administration rather than treating patients and clients, meaning there is little opportunity to focus on quality of care. The British Medical Association has warned of chronic under-recruitment in psychiatric professions, with a year-on-year decline in the numbers joining, and numbers remaining either static or falling since 2009. Around 12% of all medical vacancies are in mental health services. Similarly, around 12% of all nursing vacancies are in mental health and the vacancy rate for Clinical Psychologists is also just over 12%. The commitment to increase mental health provision is worthy, but currently falling short of its goals and targets.

The NHS Long Term Plan says that “mental health services will grow faster than the overall NHS budget with a ringfenced investment worth at least £2.3 billion a year for mental health services by 2023/24.” In 2021 NHS England shared plans of five new waiting times standards intended to give people much quicker access to mental health care. But the resources just aren’t there.

One way to treat the gap is through the innovative use of technology. As a result of the pandemic there has been an acceleration in the space of digital healthcare tools. There is a new growth in the development of apps acting as early intervention for mental health, a way for people to engage with and practice proven self-help techniques used to treat depression and anxiety when they need to, breaking negative cycles in a supportive, fun, and safe environment.

Tech can play a bigger part in helping to guide people to resources which target their key symptoms whilst they remain on therapeutic waiting lists, as well as easing the pressure off therapists by supplementing clinical assessments and treatments with electronic triage and AI driven guided self-help interventions. By redirecting funding into these solutions, more clinical staff time and energy can be focused on supporting those who need them.

Technology can play a part in helping to guide people to resources which target their key symptoms whilst they remain on waiting lists to see a therapist. Instant 24/7 access to interactive, AI-guided, mental health support means that patients can immediately start to manage their symptoms. There can be a deterioration on mental health during the waiting period, and an effective support system in the interim helps mitigate against this.

At the same time, it can ease the pressure off therapists by supplementing clinical assessments and treatments with electronic triage and artificial intelligence driven guided self-help interventions. By streamlining the system through e-triage it ensures that those who need treatment can access the professional support they need, fast. And by sharing real time patient data with clinicians during the waiting period, technology can help identify high risk responses and flag for crisis attention, making sure no one’s needs get missed.

At the same time as providing care for patients, this addresses the issues that therapists have raised. They get to spend more time on high quality patient support – the reason they entered the profession. Their administrative workload is reduced by a reduction on paperwork and assessments, so burnout is less likely. And the data sharing opportunities allow for monitoring and support even outside of the therapy sessions.

The NHS is committed to doing the right thing for patients. And for many right now that means finding innovative ways of increasing capacity within mental health services, in a person-centred way that gives people access to what they need, when they need it. Technology could be the solution to ensuring that everyone gets the most appropriate treatment and support for their mental health.