First free NHS ward cybercafé opens in Greater Manchester

Trust hopes others will follow its example nationwide

By Ian Birch

The Royal Bolton Hospital has opened a free mental health inpatient cybercafé accessible to patients, relatives and friends, in what’s thought to be a UK first.

Internet Cafe (big sign)Greater Manchester West NHS Trust aims to give people access to the latest information relevant to their conditions and to break some of the isolation that mental health inpatients – especially those on a section – can feel in hospital.

BAND – a local voluntary mental health organisation and charity will operate the cybercafé three days a week – Tuesday to Thursday afternoons -- and it has four computers: supported by techy volunteers.

The computers can also be used to stay in touch with family and friends (e.g. via email) and volunteers will signpost browsers to useful and relevant information.

Karen Hodgetts, Assistant Director for Inpatients and Crisis Mental Health Services at GMW’s Bolton Mental Health Directorate, said:

“The internet café is an exciting new venture that will provide our patients, their families and carers with access to the internet in a safe environment where they can learn new skills, keep in touch with friends and be signposted to useful websites.

“There are so many good websites for people with mental health problems and we recognise the value of our patients and their carers having access to this information, so they can create awareness of mental health issues, join discussions, and share their feelings.

“Using computers with internet access is a great way for people to feel more socially included and helps people to feel connected to their daily routine and will be something that complements our existing treatments to support people with mental health problems in their recovery.”

Martin Hadfield, Community Engagement and Representation Coordinator for BAND, said: “The new internet cafe will function alongside our Hospital Volunteer scheme by providing an environment that is inclusive, stimulating, friendly and supportive.

“BAND volunteers visit patients on wards, collect information about their experiences and pass this to our forum representatives so that we can run creative projects to improve patients stay on the mental health wards in Bolton. We also run the Rivington Unit lounge where patients can relax away from the wards and have a chat and a brew in an informal setting.”

In the past, even mobile phones were not allowed on mental health wards so this is a really positive and welcome step forward which I hope will be adopted by many other Trusts.  There is a redesign of my local NHS hospital trust’s inpatient facilities about to begin and, as a member, I will certainly be emailing the trust this article!

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