NHS Western Isles has been awarded over €1.46million for projects aimed at supporting the health and wellbeing of those living in the Outer Hebrides.

The funding will be used by NHS Western Isles, in its role in a number of European innovation partnerships, to develop and test new services and technologies in various ways to support health and wellbeing.

The first project relates to ‘ChatPal’, which involves the development of ‘Digital Wellbeing Conversations’ to support and promote mental health and wellbeing.  €220,000 will be received for the ChatPal project over three years, to develop and test chatbot technologies. A key objective is to create and pilot a multilingual chatbot service that will provide a digital mental health service supporting project workers and skills coaches.

NHS Western Isles will be working with local stakeholders Western Isles Association for Mental Health, Penumbra and Foyer, to develop such new services to best meet local needs.

€425,000 has been received by NHS Western Isles for the second project, ‘IT4Anxiety’.  The key objective of the project is to reduce the anxiety of patients suffering from neurodegenerative diseases (e.g. Alzheimer‘s disease) or post-traumatic stress disorder.

The project, which was funded €8million in total from NWE Europe programme, will focus on the creation and implementation of innovative solutions, in particular those related to digital technology.  The project will develop and test technological solutions alongside conventional approaches to address anxiety. 

‘mPower, Healthy and Connected Communities Project’ is the third project to receive funding . An additional €1.4 million will be added to the €8.4 million original total partners’ allocation in order to strengthen and extend the shared learning for the local mPower project.  The local mPower project has been operational since 2017 and has been successfully building in area of digital health and wellbeing support.

During this time, the local mPower project has created three Community Navigator roles based across the Western Isles, who provide support through Health and Wellbeing Plans for persons facing a range of difficulties affecting their health.

This may be from loneliness, mental health difficulties, lifestyle issues or practical things such as difficulties getting to hospital appointments or in keeping their home warm.  The project also helps people with potential technologies that may assist them in improving their health.  This ranges from help with simple communication devices for maintaining social connections to home health monitoring solutions for remotely managing a health condition.

mPower has, to date, directly helped over 130 people via Wellbeing Plans or technology support.  The project has now been allocated a further €151,514 funding over the next two years to further develop learning which will be used to fund a new Improvement Advisor role and tap into knowledge experts in a range of topics to promote the project learning and build into existing practice.

Martin Malcolm, Head of Public Health Intelligence and Projects Lead at NHS Western Isles, said: “These are fantastic opportunities to harness both financial resources and international expertise to develop and test out new innovative approaches in supporting people with their health and wellbeing, which we would otherwise not be able to do. 

“It is great too that, in so doing, we will be able to create around eight exciting new job roles in such an innovative area that hopefully will stand us in great stead as we look to the future and how we sustain health and care services on the islands.”

Despite the UK's decision to leave the European Union by the end of 2020, participation in these projects is safeguarded till the end of their funded periods between 2021-2023, as confirmed by the relevant Scottish and UK Government departments. 

As partners in NPA Arctic INTERREG Project, Chatpal is led by Ulster University with partners from Lulea Institute of Technology and Norbotten Association of Local Authorities in Sweden, East Finland University, Action Mental Health, Northern Ireland and The Cork Institute of Technology, Ireland.   The project has been designed to address the identified mental health needs of people living in rural and sparsely populated areas of Northern Ireland, Scotland, Finland, Sweden and Ireland.