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A 3-digit number to access urgent mental health support

Delivering mental health crisis lines through 111, so that people in a mental health crisis know what number to call for help and advice.

  • Proposal
  • 2022

Meet the team


  • Nick Adams

What is the challenge your project is going to address and how does it connect to the theme?

The report of the Global international crisis care summit in 2018 called for all countries to have a single, universal 3-digit number for patients and carers to be able to access urgent mental health support. The NHS in England is one of the first countries to commit to this ambition, and is well-placed to do so with the infrastructure already in place through NHS 111.

The challenge is that crisis helplines were stood up much quicker than planned in response to the pandemic and are effective in all areas of England, so this ambition now requires a dismantling of existing digital platforms and telephony systems and replacement with new. This presents challenges for staff using systems, new marketing strategies very soon after telephone numbers have been advertised widely, engagement with a wide range of stakeholders as well as the technical difficulty of implementing new systems.

What does your project aim to achieve?

Access to mental health and support will be accessible via the same number, wherever you are in the country. It will address health inequalities by improving parity of esteem for people in mental health crisis; currently people with physical health concerns know they can contact 111 for help and advice, whereas people seeking mental health help and advice have to find their local helpline number in order to access this. Delivery of the helplines through a single number should also help address access for deaf people, people who do not use verbal communication (such as some people with learning disabilities) and people who do not speak English.

Our team, the clinical network, works with 11 integrated care systems across the Midlands and the project would be aiming to achieve this ambition across all 11 areas. The NHS would be the first health service in the world to achieve this ambition.

How will the project be delivered?

The national mental health team at NHS England and NHS Improvement has already issued guidance on implementing this aim. All 11 integrated care systems in the Midlands are already considering the challenges they face in achieving this project aim. We have had conversations with NHS Digital about these challenges and how they might be overcome. Additional technical support  and advice directly to systems and 111 providers would help address the challenges to successful delivery of the project.

Integrated care systems, supported by the clinical network, are well-placed to involve all relevant stakeholders, including existing telephony system providers and people who use mental health crisis services.

Value for money will be achieved by working with systems jointly instead each working independently.

A set of outcomes will be co-produced to measure outcomes, with a focus on quality aspects of the crisis helplines and patient experience. These outcomes will include qualitative and quantitative measures.

How is your project going to share learning?

NHS England and NHS Improvement has existing systems for sharing learning, through national webinars and through the FutureNHS collaboration platform.

The project would be evaluated and the evaluation could be shared with Q, in document form and through presentation as appropriate.

As the first country to attempt such a project, there would be invaluable learning across the UK and Ireland and even globally.

How you can contribute

  • Technical advice, knowledge and experience of implementing similar digital transformations.
  • Experience of matching digital / telephone systems to functioning pathways that deliver the best patient journey and outcome.

Plan timeline

31 Mar 2023 The ambition is to achieve this within 2022-23

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