Limbic, an AI-powered ‘clinical assessment chatbot,’ has referred more than 150,000 people to the treatment they need in England, according to the NHS.
Those behind the technology claim it can predict eight mental health disorders with an accuracy rate of 93 per cent.
Limbic says the AI chatbot currently operates with 30 per cent of the NHS ‘Talking Therapy’ services in England – which are used by people with anxiety and depression.
Josh Cable-May, a cognitive behavioural therapy specialist at Limbic, insists they aren’t trying to replace human therapists – the aim is to improve efficiency.
NHS Bradford District and Craven is one of the services which use Limbic on their website
The AI uses questionnaires to suggest likely conditions the user may have to the NHS
Limbic says the AI chatbot currently operates with 30 per cent of the NHS ‘Talking Therapy’ services in England – which are used by people with anxiety and depression (stock image)
In 2021, the government announced a £36million boost for AI technologies to revolutionise NHS care – and Limbic was the first mental health chatbot to secure UKCA (UK Conformity Assessed) medical device certification.
But in May, The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence fast-tracked approval for nine mental health apps to be offered within the NHS for people struggling with anxiety and depression.
Some are already in circulation, like Limbic, but six of the apps/programs are recommended for use only with the support of a high-intensity therapist.
They are for use by people with disorders such as body dysmorphic disorder, generalised anxiety, PTSD and social anxiety disorder.
The chatbot asks users screening questions that are typically asked during a phone call prior to referral – many people with anxiety or related disorders find phone calls daunting and the AI is hoped to break down this barrier.
Once the user has answered all of the questions, all the data is attacked to a referral record to support a practitioner in providing the right clinical assessment.
But some doctors are concerned about what the use of chatbots in the NHS mean for them.
Posting on X (formerly Twitter), one user said: ‘As a doctor, all I want politicians to know is this – there’s no point in talking about revolution in the NHS because currently we aren’t able to provide the very basics of care.
‘Robots/AI/Ground-breaking research means nothing without GPs, safe emergency care, beds and staff.’
Another user said: ‘I worked in the NHS. They cannot even get their current IT systems to work, to interconnect, to manage assets.
‘Disparate systems across trusts and multiple non connected systems within each trust. The pay is poor and they lack skills and innovation. They have no chance with AI.’
However, those behind the technology say they are only trying to free up practitioner time and help people take the first step towards therapy.
The Limbic website reads: ‘Replacement isn’t the answer, making therapists’ lives easier is.’
Mr Cable-May told the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy: ‘We lower the barrier to accessing services, which has also led to an improvement in access for underserved populations.
‘Around 40 per cent of our referrals are outside normal office hours, which speaks to the helpfulness of having a 24/7 tool. It is a very effective digital front door.
‘We are not trying to replace therapists.
‘We still need a human in the mix, and that is why we are still embedded within a care ecosystem. Everyone who refers into the NHS Talking Therapies using Limbic Access will have a human assessment and continue with a human therapist.
‘But reducing the admin burden frees up [practitioners] to do the actual therapy, which can assist in reducing waiting lists.’
An audit of the technology Limbic uses found there were 45 per cent fewer changes in treatment for patients who used it, due to the increased accuracy.
The chatbot stores answers to the questionnaire in a data profile for practitioners
It also found that patients were assessed 12 minutes quicker, an 18 per cent reduction in treatment drop outs and a five per cent reduction in wait time.
Limbic says their chatbot has saved NHS services in England more than 30,000 since it was launched, at a time when practitioners are massively overworked.
A study of this AI-self referral tool in the NHS found Limbic to be especially effective for minority groups, though it is currently in the pre-print stage and awaits full peer review.
The research, carried out by those working at Limbic, found an increase of 235 per cent in non-binary people being referred, a 30 per cent increase for bisexual people and a 31 per cent increase for ethnic minority individuals.
Dr Ross Harper, co-founder and CEO of Limbic said in a press release: ‘This is a landmark moment for mental healthcare, as it provides strong evidence that our psychological assessment software – the first in the world to gain this level of certification – is a safe and clinically effective way to augment the therapy process within mental health services at a time when such support has never been more needed.
‘Limbic Access is reducing the workload for IAPT services by gathering information through a friendly, supportive chatbot conversation and using its machine learning capabilities to deliver effective triage.
‘The result is that clinicians are more informed ahead of appointments and can spend more time focusing on the patient; services have less admin to complete, and patients enjoy shorter wait times and faster recovery. It’s win-win-win.
Earlier this year, the mental health charity Mind revealed the public’s loss of confidence in mental healthcare, with YouGov polling showing more than 1 in 3 British adults (35 per cent) said they don’t have confidence that a loved one would be safe if they needed hospital mental healthcare.
This is part of an ongoing ‘crisis’ in mental health care in the UK.
The NHS Confederation says the neglect of mental health services means some patients are waiting up to 80 hours in A&E.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of NHS Confederation said in a press release: ‘The current focus on the elective recovery, industrial action and GP access has meant that mental health has slipped down the government’s set of priorities and patients and services are being forgotten.
‘This is a national emergency which is now having serious consequences across the board, not least for those patients in crisis.
‘We know that there is increasing demand for mental health support, but with limited supply in the community, this demand is washing up on the shores of wider NHS services and having a knock-on effect on the care of other patients, waiting times and recovery efforts.’
AI chatbots aren’t the only technology the NHS is using to try and ease the burden on its overworked staff.
Earlier this year, a trial at Milton Keynes University Hospital saw a self-driving ‘helper bot’ called Milton used to transport medicines around the building.