New online waiting room helps children and young people manage their mental health while they wait for NHS therapy

NCL Waiting Room is a new online platform set up to support children and young people who are waiting to see an NHS therapist in north-central London. The platform was created by the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust and mental health professionals across north-central London, in collaboration with children, young people and their families.

Waiting Room

With referrals to child and adolescent mental health services at a record high during the pandemic, more and more children and young people are facing long waits to be seen. The NCL Waiting Room is an innovative digital platform, co-produced with children and young people, to provide much-needed support while they wait for treatment. It empowers children and young people to develop self-care strategies to manage their mental health while they wait for their first session.

The NCL Waiting Room has a ‘check in’ section, where children and young people can rate and track their mood over time and share this information with their therapist. They can also tell their therapist what they would like extra support with, and what helps them feel better. They can share this information before the first session, to give the therapist an idea of their personality and preferences, and between sessions as the therapeutic relationship develops.

Based on the stated needs and preferences of the child or young person, the NCL Waiting Room recommends relevant local services, community activities, self-care apps and creative online games that can support emotional wellbeing.

The ‘goals’ and ‘progress’ sections of the platform empowers the child or young person to begin working on their difficulties even before the first session with their therapist.

The feedback from children and young people is monitored by clinicians at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust and used to improve the platform. For instance, only 23% of new children and young people using the platform said they knew what to do if their mental health problems got worse. In response, additional resources and advice on how to manage a mental health crisis were added to the platform, and further efforts were made to improve awareness even before a service user logs on.

Talia*, aged 13, said: “Waiting for a therapist can be a really draining and anxious time. Sometimes it can feel incredibly lonely too, however the Waiting Room completely changes this. It allows this time period to be used effectively and work in your favour by building a relationship with your therapist beforehand, and giving you the independence to collect your thoughts and feelings, so that once sessions start you don't feel too overwhelmed.”

Emilios Lemoniatis, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Waiting for therapy can be an enormously stressful time for children and young people. With waiting lists getting longer in many localities, it’s vitally important that support is in place for children and young people at such a vulnerable point in their therapeutic journey.

The Waiting Room platform is an incredibly useful tool to support people before their therapy begins, and indeed between therapy sessions. It’s also hugely helpful for therapists like myself to have some information about the child or young person before the first session, so that we can reflect on how best to tailor the support we offer to that person’s preferences and circumstances.”

Freddie Peel, Senior Strategy and Transformation Manager at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We built the Waiting Room platform in direct response to the needs of the children and young people we support at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust and across north-central London.

Children and young people told us they felt isolated and overwhelmed while waiting for therapy, with many of them experiencing a further deterioration in their mental and emotional wellbeing while they were waiting. In response to this, we built this platform in collaboration with children and young people: we asked them what sort of support they wanted, and built the platform to reflect their needs.

We’ve designed the platform so that we can continue to innovate and adapt to the needs of children and young people who use it, and intend to regularly update the offering in response to user feedback.”