YOUNG people in Gwent who self harm or have eating disorders are to be given the option of a digital 'cwtch' to help make it easier to access expert help.

CWTCH in this instance stands for Connecting With Telehealth to Children in Hospital, a project offering the option of tele-psychiatry through a virtual online clinic, in the company of family members.

The project is being funded with support of up to £75,000 from the Health Foundation, a charity that aims to improve healthcare in the UK and make access to it more equitable.

CWTCH is set to focus initially on young people admitted to paediatric wards in the Royal Gwent and Nevill Hall Hospitals because of the aforementioned problems.

As well as seeking to reduce the waiting time for these young patients to access the psychiatric help they require, speeding up vital assessments, the project is set to benefit staff too and there is scope further down the line to use the technology to hold multi-disciplinary team meetings.

The use of information technology to support patients and staff is part of Aneurin Bevan University Health Board’s commitment to bring care closer to home as part of its Clinical Futures transformation programme. The CWTCH project also aligns with the Welsh Government's technology-enabled care programme.

“We are delighted to receive the funding from the Health Foundation for our tele-psychiatry project," said Alka Ahuja, consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist and visiting professor, University of South Wales, who is leading the CWTCH project.

"The introduction of tele-psychiatry has the potential to provide an efficient service that saves time, reduces cost and decreases stress for patients and staff.

"The mental health of young people is an issue that is very much in the spotlight and this project provides an opportunity to work with young patients using their language and technology.

"We spoke to young people about the idea and to them it is a 'no brainer' and we want to engage with those who present with self harm and eating disorders.

"The potential is there in the future to take it into the Grange University Hospital when it opens, and to engage patients and their families at their homes.

"A lot of families are already under stress and if appointments can be speeded up and made easier for them, that benefits them and the people caring for them.

"We've had interest from other paediatric teams, and from colleagues who work with older people with dementia. It may be a way to make appointments less stressful for them, because it can be difficult to get people to hospital.

"There are also possibilities for this sort of approach for health education, school nurses, and district nurses, who can have many, many appointments every week."