A national strategy for digital technology in mental health could help improve services, according to a new report that found few providers allow patients to book appointments online.

The Future’s Digital: Mental Health and Technology points to slow progress on the adoption of technology in the sector, despite a strong appetite among providers and users.

However, the Mental Health Network, which produced the paper, claims there is a consensus within the mental health service that changes are needed.

In the report’s conclusions, the network said: “We are lacking a clear sense of future vision, and the right skills among our workforce.

“Our existing ways of evaluating new products and services, and ensuring their safety, are too slow to enable our services to keep up with the pace of technological change we see all around us.”

While none of the 15 providers questioned for the report offered patients online appointments, the majority said they plan to do so.

Eighty-two per cent said they hoped to introduced online and mobile applications to help deliver services, with some exploring the use of online video for clinics.

The report identified financial constraints, lack of investment, problems with IT systems and poor IT literacy among staff and patients as barriers to the use of technology in mental health.

The report calls for a national strategy for e-mental health to be developed in 2015-2016, alongside a programme of investment to support transformation and change.

Rebecca Cotton, director of policy for the Mental Health Network, told HSJ: “Digital technology has transformed the way we live our lives in so many ways.

“Increasingly people are buying goods online, managing their finances over the web, and using social media to keep in touch with family and friends.

“Compared with other sectors, the NHS is seriously behind the curve. We need to catch up if we’re going to deliver the sorts of services the public want.

“We need to make better use of technology if we’re going to keep the NHS financially sustainable for future generations.

“Mental health services have had their budgets cut, in real terms, for the past three years. By 2030 there will be approximately 2 million more adults in the UK with mental health problems.

“We need to deliver services differently if we’re going to keep up with increasing demand.”