The University of Southampton and the local health system have worked together to address the growing gap in support for people struggling to cope.
Over five years and prior to the pandemic, the University of Southampton had seen an increase in the number of students struggling with their mental wellbeing. People who do seek help might naturally turn to their GPs, but the University was seeing far more students who needed some support, but not necessarily a GP diagnosis or treatment referral.
Both the University and the Southampton North Primary Care Network (PCN) GP practices had experienced a stretch on service demand, particularly from students who require a different type of ‘early intervention’ support. The University was also concerned with students who were not yet ‘on their radar’ but who nevertheless were struggling to cope.
The challenge was to offer a “wider range of support that would hopefully ensure that we are able to meet the needs of more students.” Says Emma Roswell at the University of Southampton.
The PCN and University decided to work together to tackle the issue. As well as commissioning a Community Psychiatric Nurse, the PCN suggested Togetherall, having heard of its success elsewhere. After exploring the benefits, the University and PCN decided to commission Togetherall, together.
“It made perfect sense for us to commission the service together as our target audience has a huge overlap and the benefits of having the service will hopefully impact both teams,” says Emma Roswell Associate Director – Student Health and Wellbeing. For Dr. Matt Prendergast, working collaboratively has also meant that funding for the service was easier to access – something which can be challenging either through NHS commissioning or GP surgery budgets.
The intervention was timely. The decision to commission was taken in the lead up to the first COVID-19 lockdown when concerns were mounting about the impact the pandemic would have on people’s mental health – students in particular. Togetherall “is good for a computer-literate population and gives another channel for engagement,” says Dr. Prendergast.
“The other huge benefit was that we could make it available to staff too,” says Roswell. “We had a big gap in terms of staff support. We are increasingly seeing staff struggling with stress and poor wellbeing.”
Togetherall is part of a range of services offered across both the PCN and university campus, including a 24/7 Student Life team, drop-in sessions during the day, student counselling services in addition to GP Practices which have now have a dedicated nurse and a social prescriber.
By working together on initiatives such as commissioning Togetherall, both systems are not only relieving pressure on existing services but also able to plug an additional gap by offering an additional channel that extends support to people struggling to cope but for whom a GP or other services were not the best solutions.
Following a six-month trial, the University and PCN extended Togetherall access with additional therapy session support for the University through the platform.
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