THERE is no proof that 85 per cent of depression treatment apps accredited by the NHS work, claim experts in the journal Evidence Based Mental Health.

Fourteen different depression apps are currently recommended by the NHS for patients to help them to manage their condition in the face of straining mental health services.

The rise of smartphones and tablets has led to the increasing popularity of these interactive online and app based treatments for mental health. There are over 1,500 available for download.

The authors, Simon Leigh of the Management School at the University of Liverpool, and Steve Flatt of the Liverpool Psychological Therapies Unit Community Interest Company, say they may be just the option the struggling NHS is looking for.

Overstretched mental health services mean that one in 10 patients in England must now wait over a year before getting any form of treatment, while one in two waits more than three months, studies show.

One in six of those waiting for treatment is predicted to attempt suicide.

And their condition is likely to worsen while they wait waiting to see a professional.

Mr Leigh and Mr Flatt want the apps to be removed from the NHS library, claiming that there is no evidence to suggest their clinical effectiveness. By recommending them, they say, the NHS is falsely reassuring patients.

Of the 14 depression and anxiety treatment apps listed in the NHS library, only four provide scientific proof that they actually work when used by patients, while just two of them have been properly evaluated for clinical effectiveness.

Because of this, the authors claim: “Confidence in, and the validity of, the claims made by apps that fail to apply such metrics must be considered as low at best, suggesting that the true clinical value of over 85 per cent of NHS accredited mental health apps is at present impossible to determine.”

Accreditation by the NHS causes patients’ to trust the apps as it implies a standard of quality’, say the authors. But the quality of the apps varies, and not enough has been done to assure that they are scientifically credible and actually work.

There are 27 mental health apps in total listed on the NHS library. The authors claim that apps for other mental health conditions have also not undergone proper review.

Three in 10 people with mental health conditions pay for private treatment rather than opting to join the long waiting lists for NHS treatment.

The apps could not only be a waste of money but could also cause higher levels of anxiety for those for whom private treatment is not an option.

Mr Leigh and Mr Flatt call for the removal of the apps from the NHS library where their performance and effectiveness have not been properly measured: “In order to ensure that apps don’t do more harm than good, it is important that those presently recommended by the NHS apps library that either fail to demonstrate the evidence underlying the methodological approach taken, or evidence of effectiveness in use, are removed.”

By Eleanor Doward

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