NHS app integrates AI to improve mental health service access

Updated: Aug 23


An app designed to streamline access to NHS services now aims to improve uptake of mental health services, with the help of artificial intelligence.


Currently used by over 400,000 NHS patients, the Ask NHS app lets users find information, check symptoms for various conditions, and book appointments with their GP.


Now, with the additional integration of AI-based virtual assistant technology, the app will let users book mental health services without needing a GP referral.


Working with the NHS's Healthy Minds programme, which provides access to talking therapies for mental health issues, the app will now let users share their mental health concerns with a virtual assistant that will offer resources, self-help tools and one-on-one consultations in response to user input.


The app will also have the capability to triage more urgent cases to human healthcare specialists.


The new integration is backed by the findings of a recent pilot study conducted by 18 NHS practices in Lewisham that investigated using the app for improving access to physiotherapy services.


The study found that, among 50,000 app users given the ability to book directly into their local Physio First Service without a GP referral, usage of physiotherapy services increased 3-fold without any additional burden on healthcare workers.


In total, the app saved over 150 hours of clinicians' time.


Read more: Most social media users want better mental health protection

The virtual assistant AI is provided by technology company Sensely with which the NHS originally developed the Ask NHS app.


The company works with various businesses worldwide to help connect customers with the correct services.


Image of Ask NHS app's virtual assistant process
The Ask NHS virtual assistant puts users in contact with the right services. Source: Ask NHS website.

For the NHS, the hope is to leverage the technology to make better use of mental health services for those dealing with mental health issues.


“During the pandemic, we’re offering a range of talking therapies and support virtually for people experiencing common mental health difficulties such as depression and anxiety," said Kirsty Matthews, Healthy Minds team manager.


“Working with Sensely Ask NHS has helped to ensure that people can be provided with the information and care they need quickly and easily.”


The improved capabilities of the Ask NHS app come at a time when mental health issues are reportedly on the rise due to the pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic.


“Sensely’s AI tools empower Ask NHS users to self-manage their healthcare during the COVID-19 crisis, while reducing the risk of infection and easing the strain on hard-working doctors and nurses," says Adam Odessky, Cheif Executive of Sensely.


“Now more than ever, we need to ensure that people can access the physiotherapy and mental health support they need — and the Ask NHS app is the easiest and quickest way for patients to take charge of their healthcare journey.”


Written by Alice Lynes

News reporter for Talking Mental Health

Twitter & Instagram: @alicelynes