The Support Hope and Recovery (SHaRON) online network


Mental health can cause both physical isolation and perceived social isolation, as many people don’t want to go out and engage with anyone. SHARON creates a secure networking environment for its users, who can access it whenever they want, in addition to attending meetings

Jonathon Burton, Head of Web and Digital Services at the Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, talks about the trust’s Support Hope and Recovery (SHaRON) online network, originally designed for people with eating disorders.

Mental health issues happen 24/7, 365 days a year, but unless you are seriously ill in the hospital, support services tend to be 9 to 5 with services. crisis center providing after-hours care. In 2009, mental health services for eating disorders were not as readily available as they are today and there was less support from professionals or peers. One of our clinicians at Berkshire Healthcare was frustrated that eating disorder services tended to end at 5 p.m. and nothing was available on weekends. This led us to design and create our own online Support for Hope and Recovery Network (SHaRON),1 a social networking e-health system, initially created for people with eating disorders, but being rolled out to support other mental health services.

Care link2 has provided the infrastructure with the highest level of data security and privacy and SHARON has become the first of its kind, providing a solution that is always available 24/7, connecting individuals to each other and to their providers of care.

The online therapeutic and social networking platform, similar to Facebook but with very high security levels, is easy to use for people with eating disorders and their clinicians.

Elements of recovery

From a user’s perspective, the Support Hope and Recovery online network is like a building. You need a key to enter, and once you are in that building, your key will allow you to access specific rooms. As a clinician or moderator, you have access to all rooms. As a patient, you have access to rooms or to information directly related to your illness. For example, it would not be appropriate to have people with anorexia in the same room as people with bulimia, so they are in separate rooms.

Inside the building, there is a “living room” where patients can talk in real time to others during treatment and those who have recovered. They will also find a “library” where they can view relevant accredited literature on their disease and a “television” where they can view video content on self-help and home therapy.

The Support Hope and Recovery online network is invaluable in providing support to its users who may be struggling evenings, nights and weekends, and relieving the strain on mental health services in times of crisis. Digital support also helps avoid appointment cancellations and helps patients who live further away in rural communities or who rely on public transport to stay connected.

Secure network environment

Mental health can cause both physical isolation and perceived social isolation, as many people don’t want to go out and engage with anyone. With SHARON, we create a secure network environment for our users; they can access it whenever they want, in addition to attending appointments.

Users of our services are anonymous to each other, with their own nicknames, so they don’t feel judged on anything they say to someone else. It’s so much easier for mental health patients than face-to-face networking, which involves all the social skills they could really struggle with. Even if they haven’t been able to get out of bed, wash their hair or take a shower, they can still access the support they need with digital service.

Security for peace of mind

The SHARON app is provided and supported by Carelink. It is a robust, critical and secure platform containing extremely sensitive data related to its patients and clinicians. Carelink manages the platform on its internal cloud platform which includes connectivity to the internet and the recently launched Health and Social Care Network (HSCN), which replaces the N3 network.

We think infrastructure is like our bank vault. The high level of security required for SHARON is implemented in different layers and backups are performed daily, data is deduplicated, encrypted, compressed and stored in a secure offsite location.

Support recovery

In a recent survey we conducted, over 80% of SHARON users agree that it has helped them recover.

We have expanded the e-health system over the past seven years to support speech therapy, perinatal and mental health services for children. As of June 2018, the service supported more than 2,500 members.

The Support Hope and Recovery online network also alleviates pressure on mental health staff; they can now be online and responsive to customers while performing other administrative tasks. We have also empowered peer moderators, recovered service users, who are trained and supervised to work for us at no additional cost. It also has huge benefits for their own ongoing recovery.

Digital at the service of innovation

Some NHS organizations are so busy doing their day-to-day work that they just don’t have the time or the capacity to think about digital adoption. Building a system from scratch may not be right for everyone, but having the space to innovate and find the right digital solution is essential.

People often think that it will cost thousands of dollars to go digital, but many digital solutions are inexpensive, but have the potential to transform trusts. Unless the NHS gives people the opportunity to take time to deliver time to rethink services, innovation will stagnate.

SHARON started with a clinician who noticed the limitations of patient services. Clinicians need people in the NHS they can approach who are willing to take a risk and try a new idea – this is how you will transform services. The NHS needs a transformation and digital is one way to get there fast.

The references


Jonathon burton
Web and Digital Services Manager
Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust

This article will appear in issue 6 of Europa Health Quarterly, which will be released in August.

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