Mental health care in the UK is currently in the midst of a ‘digital revolution.’ With a number of new and innovative services to choose from – whether that be meditation guides or sleep tracking apps – digital solutions are rapidly making mental health treatment accessible for all.

In addition to a growth in the number of services empowering citizens to take control of their mental health, the variety of ways that people can access mental health services has also expanded significantly. However, despite these positive changes, the question of how we can support the most vulnerable in society remains a serious concern.

Over the course of the traditional mental health care process, patients will often seek assistance at multiple care settings, whether that’s a mental health hospital, a doctor’s practice, or a community care service. In combination, these settings not only provide patients with quality care, but have the necessary frameworks in place to flag and intervene in instances when a patient may be heading towards a crisis. However, the limited visibility that Trusts have of their patients attending these varied care settings has led to potentially dangerous gaps in care. This challenge has only been exacerbated by the pandemic and its associated lockdowns, which have reduced the opportunities for health professionals to identify patients that require immediate intervention.

A 2013 Birmingham homicide investigation laid bare the consequences of inaccurate mental health data, exposing the critical flaws in the mental health system. The tragic episode reinforced the need for improved information sharing, to ensure that people in critical situations receive the level of support that they require.

These events – and the issues they highlighted – led five mental health trusts from across the West Midlands to come together to create the NHS’ first mental health data sharing model. The consortium aimed to serve as a model of excellence in crisis care, and show how greater collaboration across different services can vastly improve the quality and consistency of mental health care.

The success of the consortium’s integrated care record has depended upon the latest collaborative healthcare technology, which has enabled clinicians to make swift and potentially life-saving decisions to help people at their most vulnerable. Yet, despite their regional success in helping health services in the West Midlands improve the quality of their mental health care, these records are yet to be adopted more widely. The potential for the NHS to replicate these services across the UK remains huge and untapped.

As the digital services for those presenting for mental health issues continues to grow, it’s clear that more work needs to be done to give healthcare professionals the visibility of patients from across various care settings, to prevent them from falling through the safety net of mental health care. With effective data-sharing structures in place – whereby care providers can share and access patient information easily between settings – we can improve the effectiveness of care intervention, ensure better care pathways, and foster industry-wide improvements in mental health care standards.