When the pandemic struck, psychologists at the Traumatic Stress Clinic, a specialist mental health service within the Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust, found themselves facing the challenge of providing support in a scenario that demanded distance. The clinic provides psychological treatment for people with complex post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition which can be caused by stressful or frightening events. The loss of in-person contact in a world that moved rapidly online, intensifying many existing digital divides, means it became more difficult than ever to reach those most needing support.
“Isolation is a dangerous scenario for our clients and can make PTSD symptoms worse,” explains Dr Julia Gillard, clinical psychologist at Camden and Islington NHS FT. “We work with individuals from all walks of life, including those without the means to connect digitally. So, with face-to-face appointments cancelled, we urgently needed to find a solution to ensure we could reach all of our patients without any exclusions.”
Dr Gillard and fellow clinical psychologist Jocelyn Blumberg began approaching organisations that could help. Jangala responded immediately.
The quick tech turnaround
Jangala develops low cost, secure and rapidly deployable Wi-Fi solutions. As one of its valued philanthropic partners and in line with its Smarter Technology for All vision, Lenovo supports Jangala in a technical, financial and advisory manner, providing equipment and expertise to help with the ongoing development and rollout of its products. The need for this technology snowballed when the world went online during the pandemic, and it became clear that connectivity issues for specific groups and individuals meant a very real risk of digital exclusion.
Jangala offered its Get Boxes to the clinic, which were distributed to clients without internet connections, in addition to several tablets received as a donation from Asda, secured by healthcare charity Helpforce as part of its #TabletsWithLove campaign. The NHS team pre-loaded these tablets with wellness and video communications apps. Get Boxes provided a critical solution in enabling therapy sessions to move online, ensuring vulnerable clients were supported and continued to have a vital connection to their psychologists.
“The clients who received the tablets and Get Boxes were so grateful that they were so easy to use,” says Abbie Maulkerson, assistant psychologist at Camden and Islington NHS FT. “Setting up Wi-Fi can be complicated. With Get Box, they were immediately up and running, able to join online therapy sessions in next to no time.”
“Not being able to use technology can feel disempowering and shameful,” adds Noor-Alhuda El-Amin, assistant psychologist at Camden and Islington NHS FT. “The ease of setting up may seem like a small thing, but for many clients, it was extremely empowering.”
Nurturing digital confidence
Providing clients with the technology was one challenge. Helping individuals use it was another entirely.
AbilityNet is a digital inclusion, pan-disability charity that helps people living with a disability or impairment to use technology by providing specialist advice, services and information. It also hosts the Tech4Good Awards, which Jangala has won in the past, and for which Lenovo sponsors for the education category each year. With a team of around 350 tech volunteers AbilityNet offers tailored support to those in need, whether setting up a device, troubleshooting issues, or installing software.
“Access to digital has enabled people to continue accessing essential services during lockdowns, but for some, the digital world can be daunting,” says Sarah Brain, free services manager at AbilityNet. “Our volunteer network understands how making simple adjustments can help people to do key tasks. Volunteers work alongside clients, at their pace, so that they learn and grow in confidence.”
In a similar vein to Jangala, AbilityNet’s services were needed more than ever during the pandemic, as online communication became a necessity.
“Even before the virus outbreak, people would say they’d email me and I had to explain that I didn’t have the means for this,” explains Jason, a client at the clinic. “I already felt outside of the bubble by not being connected. Then last year, it became even worse. The world went online, and I continually had to explain that I couldn’t use Zoom or Teams.”
Jason was given a tablet and Get Box, but needed help getting started. Joining forces with the NHS and Jangala teams, AbilityNet ran a pilot programme to support ten clients, including Jason, starting with a training session for volunteers working with clients with mental health difficulties, run by Dr Gillard and Blumberg. Following this, AbilityNet volunteers and Jangala team members were on hand to provide personalised support, using the various digital equipment provided to help clients learn new digital skills.
“You can’t just hand someone a tablet and hope they’ll be able to figure it out,” adds Sarah Brain. “One aspect is setting up the tech so users can get started. But it’s just as important to empower users to apply what they’re being taught and maintain the knowledge.”
Making a difference
For clients at the clinic, a digital connection transformed their lockdown experience. For the psychologists, it meant they were able to offer vital support during a very difficult period. For example, alongside individual sessions, the team ran virtual group meetings when visiting the clinic in person wasn’t an option. As well as providing a vital connection for clients to the clinic, the Get Box offered so much more during this difficult period.
“It’s been absolutely everything, and I don’t know what I would have done without it,” says Jason. “I dropped into remote sessions and attended video appointments. I could order food deliveries online, so I didn’t need to keep going to the supermarket. And I could speak to my son over Zoom, seeing him on-screen when I couldn’t see him in person. It really has made such a difference.”
With the world permanently changed as a result of the pandemic, Dr Gillard feels digital support should become a fundamental element of healthcare.
“Access to healthcare is a basic human right, and if everything including healthcare is going remote, access to the internet should be ensured,” she explains. “Not only that, but bringing therapy into the home can be a huge advantage for those suffering with mental health disorders. They are no longer required to leave their comfort space; support can come to them. There is a solid rationale for remote therapy to continue in the future. But we need to keep the focus on connectivity for us to truly reap the benefits.”
“This project is a striking example of the powerful difference technology can make in enriching people’s lives,” adds Santiago Mendez Galvis, Head of Philanthropy at Lenovo EMEA. “The pandemic has been difficult for everyone, but Jangala has stepped in to make it that little bit easier for so many disadvantaged communities, from sufferers of PTSD to displaced communities as well as schools. The versatility of Get Box in helping so many groups truly reinforces the importance of supporting and investing in this technology, and bringing connectivity to all.”