Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust’s (LPT) ChatAutism text messaging service is in the running for a gong at this year’s prestigious Nursing Times Awards in the Technology and Data in Nursing category.

Following the success of LPT’s award-winning ChatHealth services, the Trust’s Specialist Autism Team (SAT) launched the new service in November (2021) to bolster its support for autistic people aged 14 and over, including adults. It is the first and only service in the United Kingdom offering text-based healthcare for autistic people.

Eligible people with an autism diagnosis – and their family members or carers – can use the service to access free, confidential advice and support from a fully qualified health professional from the Specialist Autism Team on topics such as:

  • emotional wellbeing
  • how to have a healthy lifestyle
  • how to have healthy relationships
  • advice on drugs, alcohol and smoking
  • support with understanding autism
  • signposting to helpful resources.

The service is safe and easy to use. Support can be accessed by texting 07312 277097 and a response will be sent within 24 hours during Monday to Friday.

So far, ChatAutism has supported more than 50 different cases. Feedback from those who have used the service has been overwhelmingly positive.

Faye Harwood, digital practitioner for the SAT at Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust, said: “We are so proud of this new service. Though we are delighted to be in with the chance of winning an award, we are just so happy that it is really helping people and making a difference to their lives.

“Studies have shown that text messaging is often a less stressful way for autistic people to communicate; it allows them to put thoughts down, gives them time to digest messages, think things through and compose a response without the pressure to reply immediately. It can also be easier for autistic people to understand what the other person means without all the additional social cues that come with conversing in person.

“We worked really hard to make ChatAutism work for our patients. When we were developing the service, we made sure we involved autistic people of all ages, as well as their parents and carers, to identify what health and wellbeing support they need. We were also really careful to understand what considerations and adjustments we could make to support them, such as avoiding ambiguous language in our messages.”

The NHS Long Term Plan highlights that the use of digital technology in healthcare can act as a gateway for people to access services and information.

Faye added: “We hope that using this kind of technology will help us to bridge gaps in access to support and reduce health inequalities for autistic people.

“We also hope that by providing new ways for autistic people and their families and carers to get early help for common health issues, it will mean they won’t become worse or need more complex treatments. However, for those who need more intensive support, we are able to refer them on to get the help they need from our Specialist Autism Team or other services.”

The winners of the 32nd Nursing Times Awards will be announced at an evening ceremony in London on Wednesday 26 October 2022.

The Specialist Autism Team was established during the Covid-19 pandemic to support those with an autism diagnosis aged 14 and above, including into adulthood. The primary aim is of the work they do is to improve the quality and care for autistic people, with a focus on early intervention to help people to remain living in the community and avoid being admitted into hospital. Since launching, the team has supported almost 200 people. For more information about the Specialist Autism Team and ChatAutism, please visit: www.leicspart.nhs.uk/service/specialist-autism-team/