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Mental health patients share their views about appointments during pandemic

Survey results reveal a mixed response to digital appointments.

Having a choice of online and face to face appointments for mental health support are important to patients as the country moves out of lockdown restrictions - according to a recent survey carried out by Solent Mind.

Over 30 local people took part in a consultation and shared their views on their experience of digital appointments and barriers to accessing them.

The survey was carried out on behalf of Solent NHS Trust and the results show a mix of opinions about how useful it is to have online appointments:

• 90% of respondents have access to at least one device, and 87% have access to the internet.

• However, access doesn’t guarantee an uninterrupted place to talk or efficiency with devices, one respondent said: “I have worries about other family members hearing conversation. Don’t know how to use devices without family help.”

• Many people found the quality of the interaction with services to be affected by it being a digital appointment. Another person said: “I didn’t feel like I could say what I wanted as I wasn’t in person and didn’t feel as supported, it didn’t feel personal and as helpful as face to face.”

• Most people think that online appointments should be offered, even if they do not particularly like them for themselves. Only four out of 30 people said that they are not a good idea.

• Having a choice was considered a good thing, as respondents were able to see the benefits and disadvantages to people in different circumstances.

• Having access to a device does not mean exclusive access. Nor does internet access mean reliable and affordable internet access.

A number of comments called for options to be given to suit each individual, as one respondent explained: “For some people it works but not for me, so people should have the choice.”

Some positives from online appointments included reduced anxiety around COVID-19 and travelling, more willingness to share in group settings, time and cost benefits, and no need to be stuck in a waiting room if clinics run late.

The negative responses include concern over further isolation in the pandemic, paranoia surrounding calls, lack of access/efficiency with necessary devices & no opportunity to escape a non-beneficial home environment.

Sue Forber, Solent Mind’s Director of Services, said: “This survey confirms what we’ve learned during the pandemic, and we’ll use the findings to make sure that we don’t have a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Face to face services are gradually re-opening, but we won’t lose the online and phone support that has been so important during lockdowns.”

Richard Taylor, Solent NHS Community Services Manager, added: “It was a mixed picture overall and we realise we need to provide people with a variety of options so they can choose which suits them best.”

The results of the survey will now inform how mental health services are offered in the future, so that people who benefitted from online services can continue to get those benefits, but at the same time recognising that a return to face to face meetings is both desirable and necessary for many of the people supported.

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