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NHS to offer children depression therapy via smartphone in bid to cut waiting times

Significant waiting times prompt introduction of new technology

Alex Matthews-King
Health Correspondent
Wednesday 23 January 2019 17:51 GMT
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Significant waits for counselling mean NHS is turning to technology to prevent young people getting worse
Significant waits for counselling mean NHS is turning to technology to prevent young people getting worse (iStock)

Children with mild depression will be offered therapy via their smartphone by the NHS in a bid to cut down waiting lists for person to person services and for patients to be supported earlier.

Digital cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) provides appointments with counsellors via a messenger-style chat app.

It will now be recommended as a first option for young people age five to 18 in updated guidance for treating depression in children from the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (Nice), the watchdog which determines whether new treatments are cost effective for the NHS.

Early intervention and support can help mental health conditions getting worse, particularly at a young age where they can have a lasting impact on school performance and relationships.

However significant waits to access face-to-face counselling through child and adolescent mental health services (Camhs) in many parts of England, mean 75 per cent get worse before they’re seen.

As a result health chiefs have looked at ways technology can streamline the service.

The authors of the new guidelines "envisaged that digital CBT would be more readily available than individual CBT, which might have long waiting lists," the report said.

While digital CBT won’t be an option for every child and will not be used as an option for those with a significant health condition or suicidal thoughts, the success of recent clinical trials caused new recommendations to be fast-tracked.

Group CBT, group interpersonal psychotherapy and group mindfulness are also recommended as first-line treatments for young people in the Nice update.

Paul Chrisp, director of the Centre for Guidelines at Nice, said: “We want to ensure children are offered a range of therapies to suit their needs and individual preferences are placed at the heart of their care.

“The evidence showed digital CBT and group therapy were most effective at reducing depressive symptoms and we have recommend these as first-line options for children and young people with mild depression.”

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