The Covid-19 pandemic is transforming the way that addiction treatment services are delivered. Social distancing measures mean that in-person support meetings have been scaled back across member services and digital technology is playing an increasingly vital role in the delivery of treatment.
We recently spoke to NHS APA members at the Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust to find out how their team have adopted digital technology to achieve positive outcomes for services users throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
The Recovery Day Programme, part of the Addictions Recovery and Clinical Centre in Brent, provides effective recovery-focused treatment for people dealing with addictions and substance misuse issues.
Its 12-week programme usually operates from the Willesden Centre in Brent and supports a recovery programme through weekly face-to-face group therapy sessions. However, the coronavirus pandemic has forced the programme to shift almost entirely online, with the use of web video technology and teleconferencing to engage with clients in their homes.
The programme is headed up by Andre Geel, a Consultant Addictions Psychologist with over thirty years’ experience in the field. He describes how the pivot to a fully digital offering has been a learning curve for his staff and service users:
“Before Covid-19, all our group therapy was delivered in person at our offices in North London. But when the pandemic hit, it became clear that in-person sessions would no longer be possible. We immediately contacted all our clients and explained that we would be keeping in touch with them via email and phone while we made plans for how the new service might look”.
“We created email lists for every group we were supporting and started to share homework instructions and video material so that clients could access relevant information from their homes. Thankfully, we already had a lot of relevant content, so at the very start of the lockdown we worked hard to get this information shared electronically as swiftly as possible.”
Several weeks into the lockdown, it became apparent that social distancing measures were likely to remain in place for some time. At this point, Andre and his team looked more closely at broadening their offering and delivering all of their planned group sessions remotely.
Andre explains how virtual conferencing platforms and online tools were gradually rolled out across the programme to all their service users: “At first we trialled Zoom meetings and Whatsapp chats with some of our groups. We quickly found that a lot of our clients responded well to these informal ways of contact and within a week we had two successful virtual groups operating very successfully.”
Andre’s team soon had five groups running on virtual conferencing platforms and were working hard to ensure that clients were comfortable with the technology: “The more tech-savvy clients had no problem accessing the virtual groups. But some others were unfamiliar with the platforms or didn’t have the necessary equipment – so we emailed material to them where possible and arranged regular phone calls from case managers to go through the material.”
After a few weeks of delivering online group therapy sessions, Andre’s team noticed some dramatic developments: “We quickly realised that the virtual groups were a great way of overcoming access barriers for our clients, as people no longer had to worry about accessing child care or transportation to get to face-to-face meetings”.
“We had one mother in the group who wouldn’t have been able to attend in-person groups due to childcare issues, and a gentleman in his seventies with mobility issues who was unable to travel. In both cases, video technology was the perfect way for them to access the group and receive the treatment they needed.”
It’s important to note that Andre’s team hasn’t changed any of the content it provides – just the platform with which it is delivered – and he believes the success of this roll-out could lead to more permanent changes:
“Covid-19 has taught me how digital technology can continue to play a major role in addiction treatment even after the pandemic wanes. Our team is working more closely with clients than ever before and has seen first-hand how digital technology can improve access and even save lives."
“In the future, we will continue delivering addiction treatment in Brent as a combination of in-person and virtual services. While Covid-19 has forced all of us to rethink our daily lives, it’s clear that the recovery in every sense will be led by digital.”