Meet the ChatHealth team helping parents and young people by text

A pioneering service that gives parents and young people direct access by text to health advice and support is looking forward to another successful year.

Meet the ChatHealth team helping parents and young people by text

The ChatHealth service has been adopted by dozens of NHS organisations, including Oxford Health, to give parents and young people more choice over how they access advice and support.

The Oxfordshire-focussed service has three lines – each aimed at meeting the needs of different groups of clients. There are numbers for parents of children aged 0-4, parents of children aged 5-11 and young people themselves aged 11-19.

The first two lines are called ‘Oxfordshire Parentline 0-4years’ and ‘5-11years’ . These lines are manned Monday to Friday by health visitors and school health nurses between 9-5 and will respond to any messages sent during these hours. ‘ChatHealth for 11-19 years’ is a service available during school holidays, as during term time we have school health nurses working in secondary schools and colleges. It is also available all year round to young people aged 11-19 who are educated at home.

The service for parents of children aged 0-4 years Parentline is currently the busiest ChatHealth service in the country and the 5-11 years and 11-19 year lines are also performing solidly.

All the services are easy to access, and users can remain anonymous if they so wish. But who is on the other end of the phone? We decided to speak to some of the nurses who pick up the texts and help hundreds of people each month.

Meet Melissa

Melissa Sykes is an Oxford Health health visitor who picks up enquiries four days a week. She started with the Trust in 2009 as a nursery nurse and qualified as a health visitor in 2017. Her current role still brings her into contact with people, just in a slightly different way.

She explained: “I am one of a number of health visitors who work on the 0-4 Chat Health parent line and we all work hard, with the feedback showing how valued the service is.

“Although we communicate on text, clients know that they are talking to a human. It is a different way of working and means that people are contacting you when they really need you. To get a text from someone who says that they are struggling with their emotional health and knowing that that you are helping is really good.

“We reply by text but do pick up the phone too, especially if someone has an emotional health difficulty and wants to talk.”

The services are set up so that parents and young people can get help with a range of emotional and physical health related issues and nothing is off limits.

Melissa said: “An example could be where a child is having problems with sleeping and the parent doesn’t know what to do and may feel that they are doing something wrong.

“All they have to do is reach out by sending a text to the parentline and the Chat health team of practitioners will be able to support and reassure them by offering the appropriate advice.”

One of the benefits of communicating by text is that the chat is available to read back on your phone later on, and also the practitioner can include links to more detailed information and resources.

Feedback has shown that this is an extremely helpful approach as is the fact that the team offer a response within 24 hours during the working week.

Melissa said: “Another benefit of Chat Health is that you can take some time to think about your response to the parent and tailor it to them and their situation.

“The feedback is amazing. It is often sent on to the staff member who dealt with the call and it can make your day to receive positive feedback.

“To know that you have had a real impact on someone’s life is really nice. I once had someone come back to say that their child was now sleeping through the night and you think ‘Yes!’”

Carole Jones, Operational Manager for the Health Visiting 0-5 years Public Health Service, said: “Chat Health is not only a positive experience for our clients, the staff working on this new service also really enjoy it.

“It works well for staff and many of our team actively want to work on the service. It has also freed up more capacity for other members of the health visiting service to do face to face work and enables us to see more clients.”

Helen Carter, Health Visitor Locality Team Leader, said: “To see how popular the services have been and the positive outcomes for people is really pleasing.

“At the end of every contact clients are asked for feedback and you often get something back immediately. So much of this is positive and people often say that they have been treated with empathy and seem to really value the service.”

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Published: 7 February 2023