TEXTING nurses promises to change the way patients of all ages take care of themselves. HELENA VESTY reports on the health bosses' hope that texts will get people talking.

IN an age of modern medicine where patients are increasingly hopping on their keyboards to find solutions to their symptoms, the war on disastrous diagnoses discovered on Google is being waged.

But doctors and nurses on the ground are battling against a tricky tide, airing concerns that they are constantly being 'asked to do more with less'.

Bolton's A&E staff saw their busiest month in the department's history in October and just the month before, health bosses were warning people to stay away if their medical problem was not absolutely urgent.

Meanwhile, GP practices across the borough are too at breaking point. Appointments are becoming ever-more scarce as demand rises, and with Bolton's population set to boom by 16,000 people in the next five years, waiting times may only grow.

Now, health leaders are themselves looking to their phones for answers to the host of challenges they are facing.

A new text service, ChatHealth, was launched in Bolton last week for the first time.

Patients can text one of the borough's specialist nurses with their in their health questions and concerns. A nurse monitoring the system will respond with a text filled with advice within 24 hours, or instructions of the right place to go with their query.

ChatHealth is being aimed at people who are often most in need of reassurance and a listening ear — young people, carers and parents.

Questions ranging from breastfeeding support and child development to support for teenagers around bullying, contraception and emotional health can all be fielded by a nurse at the end of the phone.

One of the leaders who helped bring the new update in said it was the 'right time' to revolutionise how patients in Bolton interact with the NHS.

Deputy director of Bolton NHS Trust's families division, Ashley Mason, said: "ChatHealth has been introduced in 50 other areas nationally. We have been to visit those areas, we have looked at the outcomes from those areas, we have heard what young people and families have had to say about ChatHealth, and we have talked to our own population to make sure that it's something they would see as an appropriate way of seeking health advice.

"Our families are often saying to us, 'I wish I could have spoken to you at 6pm last night, I was trying to breastfeed my baby and I was struggling, if only I could have got somebody to speak to then'.

"Families have said they just need that extra bit of advice."

Frontline nurses are hopeful ChatHealth will encourage people to come to professionals with their concerns and get accurate information.

Public health nurse team leader Julie Sephton said: "A lot of people who have been texting all their lives are now becoming parents so texting is natural to them when they have questions."

The free text service will be available seven days a week, open for questions from 8am to 8pm on weekdays — vital access for working parents.

Ms Sephton said: "It's important for parents to have that offer until 8pm at night because they might not have time to call a practice during their lunch break.

"They can share feeding concerns, they might be concerned about development, minor illnesses, even their own health. We can signpost them to the right services."

The nurse said that the text service would provide a more accurate, assuring answer than the often frightening results results from a web search.

She added: "It's about getting some perspective on the situation. Anyone can comment online and people recommend things that are not always advised by medics.

"Making sure they are getting the right advice from the right professional."

For young people, the ability to text and nurse and get a trustworthy answer is just as crucial. Specialist public health nurse Trish Bond says that the confidentiality of the text service is a priority for youngsters seeking help.

She said: "They want to know that when they speak to someone it's confidential, it's the right person for the right job and that they won't have to repeat themselves."

ChatHealth forms part of an overhaul of children's health and wellbeing services in Bolton, unveiled for the first time last week.

The new Children's Integrated Health and Wellbeing Service, run by Bolton NHS Trust, will bring all services for young people ages 0 to 19 and services for parents under one umbrella.

Staff will provide support for parents and families from birth onwards, including health visiting, school nursing, and services for teenagers including sexual health services.

Ms Mason emphasised that emotional wellbeing is a particular priority for the new service, saying: "The emotional health and wellbeing of our young people in Bolton reflects the national picture and we really starting to work on our emotional health pathway. There's many services that support young people with mental health needs and this service will be one that ensures early intervention.

THE new numbers are expected to make reaching medical advice quicker and easier than ever.

The new ChatHealth service provides parents and young people with confidential health advice from one of a specialist nursing team.

Parents can text a specialist nurse on 07507 331751 with questions ranging from breastfeeding support and child development, to behavioural issues and general advice.

There is also a dedicated number for young people aged between 11 and 19-years-old. They can text a specialist nurse on 07507 331753 for support on a variety of topics, including bullying, mental health and emotional wellbeing, relationships, sexual health, and alcohol and drugs.

ChatHealth is free, though standard message rates apply, confidential and available between 8am to 8pm, Monday though Friday.

The young people’s service is also available 12pm to 4pm, Saturday and Sunday.

Outside of these times an automatic reply will be sent.

THE RADICAL reorganisation of health services for young people in the borough is hoped to turn a once separated system into a one-stop shop for children.

The new Bolton Children's Integrated Health and Wellbeing Service is bringing together a range of health care providers under one umbrella — staff are hoping it will mean easier access and better results for youngsters.

Divisional Director of Operations for the Families Division at Bolton NHS Foundation Trust, Lynne Barnes said: "There are many benefits to families of having one organisation providing services from birth and adulthood, and we hope that families having a health professional from their child’s earliest years right through to finishing school will help us all work together to ensure that all Bolton’s young people get the best possible start in life."

The service will see people through from birth to adult services when they reach 19. Youngsters will be given a 'health passport', keeping all of their information and medical notes in one place, meaning they will not have to explain concerns repeatedly to different doctors.

Deputy Director of Operations for the Families Division, Ashley Mason, said: "There will be key things that are important for young people to take with them as they move into adult services.

"In order that they don't have to tell their story again, we can get the key points onto a health passport so that they have got it there to take with them."

But bringing reforming so many individual services and bringing them together has been no easy feat.

Ms Mason added: "It's been a huge challenge but the time was right. All our partners were ready to make this step.

"Public health, the CCG, education, Start Well were all involved.

"Having that common understanding about what we need for children and young people in Bolton helped us to deliver this, albeit a huge amount of transformation at one time."