school nurseSchool nurses from Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust are up for two national awards in recognition of the outstanding patient experiences they are delivering to pupils in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland.

Staff have developed a unique ChatHealth messaging service that is bucking healthcare trends and leading the way forward at a national level in making school nursing accessible to young people.

The text helpline for 11-19 year-olds is a finalist project in two categories of the Patient Experience Network national awards - “Communicating Effectively with Patients and Families” and “Innovative Use of Technology/Social Media.”

The pioneering service, which has been co-designed by young people themselves, gives 65,000 young people quicker access to NHS care if they send enquiries from smartphones and mobile devices. Teenagers can ask for help about a range of issues. Nurses say more new students now make contact including more teenage boys who are usually less likely than girls to approach a healthcare professional and talk about their problems.

“The teenage years can be a difficult time and we launched the service in 2013 because some young people say they are more likely to ask for support if they’ve got choices about how to get in touch” said Maggie Clarke, Senior Nurse Professional Lead for School Nursing at Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust.

“We continue to offer weekly clinics in schools, for young people who prefer seeing a nurse in person. But the option of sending a text is available all the time. It’s about improving access to help for young people.”

School nurses can support children and young people with enquiries relating to a wide range of health and wellbeing issues including self-harm and bullying, drug and alcohol use, smoking, healthy eating, sexual health and mental health.

The team is developing other innovative ways of supporting teens including video-chat clinics and web-forums hosted by nurses – and ChatHealth is now piloting in special schools, increasing support for young people with additional needs. It follows the launch of a trailblazing website for children launched by the Trust early in the year.

Judges from the Patient Experience Network said, “It is extremely encouraging to learn about national initiatives which demonstrate a real commitment to ensuring that the voice of the patient is continually being sought through a variety of different and innovative approaches.”

The awards are the first of their kind in the UK and celebrate healthcare staff who are developing best practice around improving patient experiences.

Winners will be announced at the national awards finals and conference in Birmingham on 11 March 2015.

The school nursing service is jointly funded by the city and county councils. “If we engage with young people in more innovative ways they’re more likely to take an interest in their own wellbeing,” added Ernie White, cabinet member for public health at Leicestershire County Council. “If we get healthy dialogue going with young people at an early stage, we’ll help them stay well for much longer as they grow older.”