South London leading the way with health coaching app and digital mental health strategy

Older people nationally are to benefit from a coaching tool piloted in Lewisham and Southwark, while digital tools will play a part in offering joined-up care to residents in South West London

16th August 2023 about a 4 minute read
“The app offers a digital approach to healthy ageing which complements the work that we do in the community – empowering older people to manage their health and wellbeing in a supportive, realistic and fun way. Holly Health app user

A digital health tool piloted in Lewisham and Southwark is being rolled out nationally after users said it helped them adopt healthy habits.

The Holly Health app, developed in collaboration with users, is aimed at people aged 50 and over, and offers personalised coaching, which includes educational videos and health habit monitoring. Users can receive continuous guidance and motivation to enhance their physical activity, mindfulness, and lifestyle behaviours.

A 12-week pilot conducted by Holly Health in partnership with Age UK Lewisham and Southwark, found that 93% of the 36 participants said they were now carrying out new healthy habits automatically.

It also found that 89% of participants planned to continue using Holly Health after completing the pilot and 94% stated they would recommend using the app to a friend or family member.

A Holly Health user said: “It’s just a really, really empathetic tool. I think that it encourages you to care about yourself and not to beat yourself up – which is what I’ve done for probably 50-odd years really, and that doesn’t work.”

Ross Diamond, the CEO at Age UK Lewisham and Southwark, said: “The app offers a digital approach to healthy ageing which complements the work that we do in the community – empowering older people to manage their health and wellbeing in a supportive, realistic and fun way.

“We are proud of the way that the voices of older people have helped reshape the tool to improve how it is accessed and what it contains, and we are excited to see how the rest of the world responds.”

Digital tools to meet needs of local people

At the same time, a new mental health strategy from South West London integrated care board (ICB) includes plans to use digital tools and services to better meet the needs of local people.

Noting the increasing role digital technology plays in healthcare, the strategy states that “digital tools such as internet resources, mobile apps, online services and video consultations can augment traditional service delivery and access to support”.

The ICB already has a “solid foundation of digital delivery which was extended during the pandemic,” the strategy says. Examples include video consultations for service users and the commissioning of Kooth, an online mental health resource for children and young people.

The document highlights the need to improve co-ordination across the integrated care system to ensure a joined-up approach, and promises to monitor usage and outcomes from digital resources.  All digital tools will be reviewed and approved to maintain quality standards, it adds.

The ICB also acknowledges the importance of tackling digital exclusion. As part of the strategy development, a survey was distributed to service users asking about how they maintain good mental health and where they turn if they start to experience poor mental health. The feedback indicated that at present, digital tools do not score highly. The strategy states that the ICB “will work to ensure people who want to access digital resources have opportunities to do so”.

The strategy also identifies the need to develop an appropriate approach to population health management and bring together experts in the area. It highlights plans to work with colleagues from informatics teams to review data and address gaps.

As well as emphasising the importance of digital technology, the strategy aims to prevent mental illness, improve equity of access and outcomes for residents in South West London, provide better support for children and young people, and improve recruitment and retention in the mental health workforce. “Our vision is that in South West London we want everyone to have access to the right support at the right time for their emotional wellbeing and mental health,” the strategy says.

FCC Insight

At a time when rates of mental ill health are rising, digital tools can provide a simple means of self-help, and we are encouraged to see a mental and physical health coaching app being rolled out nationally after a successful pilot in Lewisham and Southwark.

We also welcome the publication of the South West London ICB’s mental health strategy, which has a strong emphasis on prevention, equity of access and better support for young people. It is good to see it acknowledge the important role digital technologies can play in supporting people, and its recognition that people who are digitally excluded also need access to support.