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Funding to expand innovative nurse-led messaging service

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Funding and support is being made available for nurses and other health professionals interested in setting up an award winning text message system for engaging with younger patients.

The East Midlands Academic Health Science Network has announced that it is investing more than £100,000 into the ChatHealth NHS messaging service.

The funding is designed to encourage frontline teams across the UK to improve access to healthcare using digital technology and innovations, such as text messaging.

The Chathealth system was pioneered by Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust, where school nurses set it up as a way of providing support to young people at risk of self-harming.

“It is a truly inclusive and innovative way for reaching out to patients”

Chris Hart

The secure system, which is monitored by a small team of trained nurses, has received 3,500 messages from patients since it was set up just over a year ago.

According to the trust, the system has developed to the point where one triage nurse can cover all text enquiries from across Leicestershire during normal working hours, while automated texts signpost alternative sources of help during out-of-hours.

Nurses have said they are speaking with more new service users across a broader range of issues and are able to intervene earlier to prevent the escalation of care. In particular it has improved access to care for adolescent males – known to be less likely to access healthcare face-to-face.

It is hoped that the new investment will help nurses in other parts of the country create similar services using the technology. The money will cover its set-up, including staff training and software installation, in trusts that want to licence use of the service, according to the East Midlands AHSN.

Chris Hart, commercial director at East Midlands AHSN, said: “It is great to be able to provide extra support to enable the spread of the service throughout the East Midlands and beyond.

“It is a truly inclusive and innovative way for reaching out to patients, making use of technology that the smartphone generation is familiar with,” he said.

“We expect lots of interest from teams that support younger people like school nursing and health visiting teams, mental health and sexual health services,” he added.

“Nursing teams in particular will recognise the value of this”

Fiona Smith

The announcement was welcomed by the Royal College of Nursing, which said the investment would help other organisations benefit from a “unique method of engaging with young people”.

Fiona Smith, the RCN’s professional lead for children and young people’s nursing, said: “ChatHealth is a great example of tailoring health services to a specific group who may otherwise be reluctant to come forward.

“This service encourages young people to discuss their health issues and receive support and advice by using a means of communication they feel comfortable with,” she said. “Nursing teams in particular will recognise the value of this.”

Ms Smith added: “It is now up to NHS trusts to take advantage of this opportunity to connect with countless young people and help them access the health care they need.”

The investment was announced at the School Nurses International Conference which is taking place in London this week.

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