Millions across South West to have access to digital health libraries

29 September 2021

The entire population of the South West of the UK is to have access to a digital health library, thanks to a ground-breaking partnership between ORCHA and seven Integrated Care Systems (ICSs), from Dorset to Cornwall. Two major areas of focus for the project will be mental health support and weight management.

The entire population of the South West of the UK is to have access to a digital health library, thanks to a ground-breaking partnership between ORCHA and seven Integrated Care Systems (ICSs), from Dorset to Cornwall.

Under the NHS long term plan, it is now government policy that digital tools should be used to supplement face-to-face healthcare, empowering citizens to manage their own health and helping to reduce NHS spending. Health apps are increasingly being used to support patients and service users with long-term conditions such as cancer and diabetes and with lifestyle changes such as smoking cessation and diet management.

ORCHA, the Organisation for the Review of Care and Health Apps, is the world’s leading app review and distribution company. It has already created an app library for Our Dorset, a collaboration between several health and care organisations. Health and care staff in Dorset have been using this to recommend apps to patients and service users, with over 2200 apps recommended to date and a notable focus on mental health, dementia, diabetes and cancer support.

The success of the Dorset programme has led to this expansion across the entire region, with its 5.6m population, and six additional ICSs are now taking part: Somerset, Gloucestershire, Devon, Cornwall/Kernow, BSW (Bath and North East Somerset, Swindon and Wiltshire) and BNSSG (Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire).

Each ICS will have its own app library complete with hundreds of highly rated health apps suitable to support populations with a myriad of medical and lifestyle issues. Whilst individual ICSs will have slightly different objectives, depending on their distinct demographics, two big areas of focus across the whole of the South West will be mental health support and weight management.

Dhana Lamér, Digital Transformation Programme Manager – South West, NHS England & NHS Improvement, said: “Weight management, in particular, is an issue in our region, as in every other region, as obesity can lead to type two diabetes. The NHS currently spends around 10% of its entire budget* on this condition, so it’s increasingly evident that we have to do things differently. Our NHS clinicians will always support people on their weight loss journeys, but giving people access to top quality digital tools will help them manage their health better on a day-to-day basis.  Small lifestyle changes can make a big difference.”

The combined approach across the entire South West will produce a cost saving of around 30%, with ORCHA managing the projects centrally.

ORCHA reviews health apps against 350 tough standards, including elements of the NICE framework – and only apps which achieve a score of over 65% for clinical assurance, data privacy and usability will be featured on its app libraries. Fresh reviews are then triggered each time an app is updated, so that standards are maintained. 

Digital health has already been used elsewhere across the South West but only in limited geographical pockets and with specific conditions in mind. For example, in one area remote monitoring is taking place. In another, COPD patients are being supported.  This is the first time an entire region will benefit from a unified approach to digital health. 

Commenting on the programme from Dorset’s perspective, Crystal Dennis, Interim Lead for Public Facing Digital Health Services, Our Dorset Digital, said: “After Transformation Boards learned of what had been achieved in Dorset, everyone was unanimous in the view that it was a no-brainer to roll out ORCHA across the seven ICS organisations.  For reasons of safety, practicality and effectiveness, it’s a foundation platform that every part of the NHS and healthcare professionals should have access to. 

Liz Ashall-Payne, founding CEO of ORCHA, said: “Partnership working in this way across several ICSs makes sense economically but also ensures populations receive top quality digital health with consistent presentation and messaging. With this fantastic spirit of co-operation and the opportunity for all the ICSs to share experiences, we are confident we can replicate the success of Our Dorset across the entire South West region, with millions benefiting from access to brilliant health apps.”

Discover more about ORCHA:

The Organisation for the Review of Care and Health Apps (ORCHA) is the world’s leading, independent digital health evaluation and distribution organisation. It helps health and care organisations to deliver the right digital health apps, to the right people, at the right time. ORCHA conducts reviews for government organisations across Europe, the Middle East, and Australasia. In the UK, ORCHA conducts reviews for NHS Digital and NHS providers in 70% of regions. NHS England is accelerating adoption across the NHS, placing ORCHA in its National Innovation Accelerator Programme.

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