Transformation Directorate

Digital technology helping people take action on their mental health care in North Staffordshire

North Staffordshire Combined Healthcare NHS Trust is one of the main providers of mental health, social care and learning disability services in the West Midlands. The trust operates inpatient and community services across approximately 30 sites to over 450,000 local people.

In 2020, the trust was named as one of the first to join NHSX’s Digital Aspirant (DA) programme, receiving up to £6 million over the duration of the programme to help deliver their digital ambitions.

The trust joined the DA programme with a vision to transform how service users and their families or carers use technology to access care and support. Building on work with their Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS), the trust wanted to move from traditional assessment and referrals to a self-empowered model, where service users and their families or carers are able to access advice and support, and refer themselves where appropriate.

This self-referral approach is shown to improve recovery and it enables young people and their carers to seek prompt treatment at an early stage. It also reduces the likelihood of lower level mental health issues becoming more severe or leading to crisis.

To lay the foundations for this transformation, the trust needed to provide equipment and connectivity for staff working in the community to access patient information on the go.

What was the solution?

New digital tech for service users to take action on their own care

In the first year of the DA programme the trust has developed the Combined Care System within CAMHS. This supports service users throughout their care journey, providing digital access to information, signposting to services and referrals into the trust. It also supports patients’ treatment and self-management requirements.

The project analysed real-life CAMHS interactions and has involved extensive collaboration with schools, young people, families, and mental health professionals. At the core of the portal is a ‘recommendation engine’, which uses rules developed by clinicians, analyses key information provided by the users and provides alerts to clinicians via their electronic patient record. It then recommends the most appropriate service for that child, ensuring the mental health professionals delivering care have a complete picture of the patient.

As part of this, the Patient Aide app provides a number of features for young people to manage their health and how they interact with the service. These include a single source of reliable information to inform young people, a smoother, faster signposting and referral process, with self-referral as the norm, and better information sharing to improve the quality of GP referrals.

New digital technology for staff to work remotely

  • The trust has introduced Attend Anywhere so that video consultations can be carried out within appropriate pathways. These are being implemented alongside the face-to-face contacts that remain important to many people and for many conditions.
  • The trust has also rolled out Microsoft Teams to all staff so that they can attend clinical and non-clinical meetings remotely.
  • 500 additional devices were rolled out across the trust, so staff could access these new digital tools remotely.

Services have been actively embracing this digital technology to support the ongoing delivery of high quality, safe and effective care throughout 2020 and 2021. The pandemic has been a catalyst for a significant culture shift towards the use of digital solutions. Staff have become eager to embrace new technology and actively changing their ways of working. The trust plans to maintain this momentum to achieve their vision and support the delivery of new care models and working practices.

Next steps

In the future, the trust’s progress through the DA programme is focussed on four key areas:

  • More mobile technology (infrastructure, equipment and connectivity) to support staff out and about in the community, so they can access and interact with patient records and care plans wherever they are.
  • Becoming a data driven organisation, changing the culture from retrospective reporting to prospective insight, and use these changes to drive improvement in quality, efficiency and patient care.
  • The expansion and optimisation of existing digital implementations and pilots to support transformation across corporate and clinical teams.
  • Combined Care System: Remodelling the referral and assessment functions across all trust services to empower more services users to self-care and self-refer into services.


Julia Ford, North Staffordshire Combined Healthcare’s CAMHS in schools lead, said: “This is about getting children to the right professional or right information first time, and much faster. At present, seven in 10 referrals to CAMHS are subsequently signposted to external organisations to appropriately meet individual needs, and some young people may need to wait some time for these services.

Chris Bird, Director of Partnerships, Strategy & Digital, North Staffordshire Combined Healthcare NHS Trust said: “The CAMHS Digital Portal is a significant step forward for the trust and brings together a wealth of information, advice and guidance for mental health issues impacting on children and young people as well those involved in their lives; parents/carers/guardians, teachers and other professionals.

“Topics covered include anxiety, exam-related stress, bullying & cyber-bullying, body image worries and a range of other concerns. It also enables children & young people, or someone on their behalf, to make a referral directly to our CAMHS service without the need for a GP appointment.

“The Trust will increasingly offer some of its services through online platforms to complement our ability to provide all services in a way that reflects the changing expectations of society and our service users. The CAMHS Digital Portal is the first step on an exciting and ambitious digital transformation for the trust.”

“We are redesigning and connecting services collaboratively with partners to remove lengthy processes traditionally associated with referrals, using technology so we can intelligently refer and triage patients to the most appropriate service.”

David Hewitt, Chief Information Officer at North Staffordshire Combined Healthcare NHS Trust, said: “No child should have to wait for mental health care provision. This new approach is empowering patients to call on that help when they need it through technology which is intuitive for them.”

“Whether it’s a professional at the trust or a specialist in the third sector, we now have the tools to get young people to the person who is best placed to help them faster than ever before. When children arrive, professionals are now much better equipped with detailed information from the child and the people who know them best, so that the first appointment can be about treatment rather than information gathering. This is enormously powerful.”

Ann Cox, Consultant Nurse & Clinical Lead CAMHS, said: “Combined Wellbeing is a co-produced information portal to meet the needs of children, young people and families. As it is co-produced the information provides a ‘go to’ resource for the clinician. It provides immediate access to evidenced based resources and links that help the children, young people and families instantly. This enables clinicians to signpost easily, knowing that the resources are helpful and meaningful. It further creates capacity in the clinicians’ time allowing better use of clinical resources in the service.”