In November, the Office for Students (OfS), in partnership with Nous Group, released it's report on a 10-month project to understand how higher education providers (HEPs) can better engage and work with the NHS and healthcare professionals. Participants from 45 HEPs and 19 regional healthcare providers engaged in monthly meetings to explore the challenges facing this collaboration. Below we address the key takeaways on what is hindering this collaboration and best approaches to tackling these challenges.
In its monthly meetings, those in higher education expressed concerns about knowing when their responsibility begins and ends. This raised questions about at what point an institution becomes ill-equipped to support a student and when a student should be passed to the NHS for greater support. The report recommends that there be clearer guidance on the role that institutions play in supporting student mental health with a government-led declaration to help “distinguish and understand the provision of support students can expect from a HEP support service, and when their needs require NHS support.”
Inadequate communication and information sharing represents a “significant barrier” to collaboration. As the report notes, “without access to sufficient and timely information, HEPs struggle to provide effective support to students, placing additional strain on limited resources and jeopardising student well-being.” The OfS recommends that NHS and higher education institutions improve information sharing with an up-to-date directory of contact information within universities so that when a student consents to sharing information, the NHS has direct contact details for the services that exist at an institution.
In its findings, HEPs and healthcare professionals “expressed strongly that they are finding that the student mental health challenge is getting more severe, but funding is not increasing in step.” Institutions simply do not have the staff to address the surge in demand for mental health services, nor the ability to support complex cases due to the inability to recruit and hire mental health professionals. The OfS suggests that institutions can put in place student mentors for low-level students in need and better protocols to providing outside resources to students at risk. This can include incorporating technology to get a full picture of the needs of students and the levels of care required to support them based on a risk assessment a student can complete.
Overall, the report addressed some key findings on better ways for these two groups to support overall student wellbeing. Yet, they also need the right tools to enact these approaches.
From a technology perspective, it is crucial that both the NHS and HEPs invest in solutions that are interoperable. Designing more effective ways to collaborate will be a key path to improving overall mental health outcomes. However, any joined-up interventions achieved by the health & education sectors will be severely restricted by poor information flow due to siloed databases and software systems.
Much of this work still remains at an institution-by-institution level. To elevate information flows between the NHS and HEPs, each institution must ensure it is taking a whole-institution approach in the first place.
With Symplicity Advocate’s case management capabilities, institutions can disseminate sensitive information to relevant parties in a controlled manner. Find out how you can adhere to information sharing protocols, collect student consent with one-click e-signatures, provide temporary NHS access to student cases, unlock fitness-to-student panel summaries and design easy-to-manage referral pathways directly from within the system.