NHS England has announced new funding for seven mental health trusts to enable them to ‘trail-blaze’ new digital services for mental health patients, in the hope of improving care.

The move will see trusts investing up to £70 million in digital services - £35 million from NHS England with additional match funding from themselves of £35 million - in order to become ‘Global Digital Exemplars for Mental Health’, helping the organisations to become IT leaders so that they can pass on knowledge and expertise to the wider NHS.

A key strand will of this will be giving all key professionals involved in a patient’s care access to real-time records - from triage and initial assessment, through to admissions or referrals, as well as transfer between services and follow up care - for the first time.

Trusts will also develop remote, mobile and assistive technologies to empower patients to manage their conditions and enable family and carers to provide the best possible support.

Under the plans, Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust is developing an app, with Stanford University, to anticipate and respond to serious self-harm and suicide risks, while Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust is to work in partnership with the University of Oxford to develop an online platform for people experiencing a range of conditions to receive tried-and-tested psychological therapies on their computer or mobile phone.

“Digital technology has the potential to transform people’s experience of mental health services and challenge the unacceptable boundaries between physical and mental health,” said Professor Keith McNeil, NHS chief clinical information officer.

“I am excited by this investment across a wide range of services and technologies and the opportunity it presents to provide both improved experience and outcomes for service users across the country.”

Professor Tim Kendall, national clinical director for Mental Health at NHS England and NHS Improvement, added that the investment “will help frontline staff and service users identify those opportunities for new service models enabled by digital technology that make a clear difference to peoples’ lives.”

Mental ill health represents a huge strain on the economy, NHS and society, at a cost of around £105 billion a year, but services are woefully under par.

Last year NHS England said it would invest an extra £1 billion a year into improving mental health services, in line with a wider-reaching package of recommendations made by the Mental Health Taskforce to give the area equal footing with physical health.

The Mental Health Five Year Forward View forecast a pivotal role for digital technology in driving major changes to mental health services over the next five years.