Health Technologies

HTN Now: developing a blueprint for an online mental health support programme – htn

For a recent webinar, we were joined by members of the NHS England Blueprinting Programme to explore good practice around implementing digital healthcare solutions, with a case study from the Support Hope and Recovery Online Network (SHaRON) programme, which offers online mental health support.

Paul Charnley, chair of the NHS Blueprinting Programme, started the session with a brief introduction, sharing his journey into blueprinting during his time as a CIO and what the programme has grown into, with a library of dedicated blueprints and case studies across a range of different areas of transformation available from the NHS Futures platform.

We were then joined by Saj Kahrod, assistant director of programmes for blueprinting & knowledge sharing at NHS England, who took us through an overview of the programme and its objectives for 2024-2025, including promoting the drive around patient-centred care coordination and enabling system-wide work.

Saj said: “We’ve got just under 4,000 different artefacts related to our full blueprints offer details of projects including benefits, successes, processes, and challenges, forming a valuable tool for colleagues embarking on similar projects or programmes of work. All of our blueprints are aligned to the capabilities of the Digital Maturity Assessment, and it’s an opportunity for people to access information which may help them on their own journey, to share learnings, and to look at the successes of some of the wonderful organisations we work with.”

Introduction to the SHaRON programme

Jade Haines, senior project manager, and Sara Wise, programme manager, presented some slides on the SHaRON programme and its progress to date. Sara shared that the programme is made up of a small team who are “absolutely passionate about providing peer-to-peer support” to users, having grown the programme from a grassroots level.

Jade provided more insight into the programme’s inception, as a digital initiative “borne from the idea that there should be a mechanism to access peer-to-peer support outside of the usual office hours”. This resulted in the creation of an “online therapeutic network designed for people with mental health conditions and those who support them”.

Taking point from social media, Jade told us that the platform takes a broadly similar approach, implementing different functionalities that people might be used to using. The aim here is to make it easy for users to navigate, and make it accessible from a range of devices.

The platform provides 24/7 access to a range of resources, peer-to-peer support, and services. Jade called it a “safe place for asking for and receiving support, helping people feel less alone during times when they might be on a waiting list or about to be discharged form a particular treatment”.

Matured within the NHS Global Digital Exemplar programme, SHaRON currently has over 6,500 patients or relatives and carers connecting with each other, and benefit realisation work has shown that 77 percent of patients felt that SHaRON had supported or helped to support them in remaining well. 80 percent of patients said that it had supported their care and treatment.

“It can also potentially help with earlier discharge,” added Jade, “and supports patient’s long-term recovery, as well as potentially improving clinical efficiencies by allowing you to share lots of information with your whole cohort of people who are on SHaRON.”

When accessing support through the SHaRON platform, Jade explained that users are able to create their own profile upon joining, but that they will remain “anonymous to one another”, with their identities only being visible to the moderators and clinicians supporting the platform, in order to address clinical risk.

Once registered, users are granted access to instant messaging, forums, blogs, videos and podcasts, promoting SHaRON’s use as a self-help mechanism. She also shared some of the upcoming features that are being developed to extent the platform’s functionality, including trending hashtag functionality, a character counter, and the ability to add people in a post and tag them.

Delivering the platform safely

With regards to delivering the platform safely, Jade discussed some of the key learnings from SHaRON to date, including the importance of support from executives and senior leaders, acknowledgement of ownership and responsibility from the trust or services using SHaRON, and a digitally engaged and clinically qualified workforce.

“We work closely with the teams to create a project plan, to map SHaRON to the service and identify how it would work best with them, looking at the clinical and operational processes they have in place.”

On how to create new SHaRON platforms, Jade pointed to the examples of Berkshire Healthcare Mental Health Integrated Community Service and Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire ICS neurodiversity services. She commented on the excitement around working with different pathways and processes, and the work involved in setting up the new pathways, governance and processes.

“It’s been a great success, and we’re always looking for new projects and at what we can do next for services to help them have that peer-to-peer and that clinical support network. Some of our improvements include SHaRON moderator training delivered by the SHaRON team and then a Train the Trainer model, as well as admin training and the SHaRON Champions, which have been an amazing tool for connecting with ourselves and the service. It might be someone who’s really keen on digital or interested in that particular project, and might want to take that role – they have amazing ideas and it’s just a fantastic network for us to feed back good practices.”


Sara went on to highlight some research with Lancaster University, who reached out to ask whether the team could collaborate with them on improving peer-to-peer support online platforms.

“Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust is the lead trust on the research,’ explained Sara, “and they’re looking at about 11 different platforms; but we are the only NHS one, and the others are from either the voluntary or private sector. We have been working very closely with Lancaster and also Manchester University to look at the linguistics and the things that people are actually saying on the platforms.”

With the help of “a strong patient participation group” and with funding from the National Institute for Health and Care Research, Sara told us that they have “learnt a huge amount” from the research to date, talking about some of the tools and projects it has helped to contribute to, such as an e-learning resource for moderators.

“It will be open access, hosted by Berkshire Healthcare, so we are very much looking forward to all the outcomes there. For me, it’s been a really exciting opportunity to be able to answer some quite challenging questions about what we’ve been doing and why we’ve been doing it, how we’ve been doing it, and all of those lessons are being integrated into our SHaRON programme, particularly around using the voice of the service user right at the start.”

Concluding the presentation before the webinar moved on to take questions from our live audience, Sara shared that the team already has one paper already published and available here.

Many thanks to Paul, Saj, Jade and Sara for joining us.



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