More digital mental health therapies backed for NHS use

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NICE has recommended eight digital therapies (DTx) for mental health disorders, continuing a drive by the health technology assessment (HTA) agency to review treatment options for patients that can relieve pressure on the NHS.

The eight DTx cover a range of depression and anxiety-related conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and body dysmorphia, and have the potential to help around 40,000 people in the UK, according to NICE.

One in six people report experiencing a common mental health problem, such as anxiety and depression, in any given week in England, according to NHS Digital.

The digital tools, which draw on cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) techniques, have been given conditional backing by NICE, while further evidence to support their use is gathered. They can only be used after a formal assessment by an NHS talking therapist.

The move comes as patients seeking help for mental health issues often have to wait for months to get a referral for therapy, with a recent survey by the Royal College of Psychiatrists indicating that around 43% of patients reported that the long waits led to their mental health deteriorating.

The UK government has pledged to invest an additional £2.3 billion ($2.8 billion) a year into mental health services by 2024 in an attempt to shore up support for patients, which includes, for example, the creation of a programme to provide people with employment support and advice.

Mark Chapman, interim director of medical technology and digital evaluation at NICE, said that the DTx have "demonstrated [...] the potential to provide effective treatment to the many thousands of people who live with these conditions.”

The HTA is also launching a consultation on the rollout, seeking feedback from clinicians and the people who will use the services. Comments can be submitted via NICE’s website until 15th March.

“It can be incredibly isolating to be on a long waiting list for in-person treatment. You might know that help is coming, you just don’t know when,” commented Elizabeth Mullenger, a lay specialist member of NICE’s appraisal committees.

“Having access to a digital therapy could help prevent this lonely feeling,” she added. “Sometimes, people need support most in the middle of the night, or after a busy day at work, and it’s hard to know where to turn. Having access to digital therapy can give people the help they need, when they need it.”

The eight new DTx join other digital CBT tools recommended by NICE, including four apps for children with anxiety, which got the green light in guidance published earlier this month. Another app to treat insomnia – Big Health’s Sleepio – was backed last year.

The list of DTx is as follows:

  • Perspectives for body dysmorphic disorder, created at Massachusetts General Hospital;
  • Beating the Blues and Space from Anxiety for anxiety disorders, both in Amwell’s SilverCloud online programme;
  • iCT-PTSD, created by researchers at Oxford University, and Cardiff University/Healthcare Learning Co’s Spring, both for post-traumatic stress disorder;
  • Oxford University’s iCT-SAD for social anxiety disorder; and
  • SilverCloud’s Beating the Blues and Space from Depression modules, and GAIA’s Deprexis for depression.