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P-15 The role of Project ECHO in building communities of practice to support mental health and wellbeing
  1. Ruth Gray1,
  2. Chris Jenkins2,
  3. Helen McNally3 and
  4. Tracey McTernaghan2
  1. 1SE Health and Social Care Trust, Belfast, UK
  2. 2Hospice UK, Belfast, UK
  3. 3Ulster University, Newtownabbey, UK


Background People living in prison may experience poor mental health, psychological disorders, and frequently have experienced traumatic episodes as both children and adults. As a post-conflict setting with high levels of Post-traumatic stress disorder in the general population, these challenges are likely particularly evident within Northern Ireland’s prison population.

Aim(s) The Northern Ireland Prison Service within the Department of Justice is responsible for delivering prison services, while the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust is responsible for delivering health care in the region’s prisons. This study sought to assess whether Project ECHO is a useful tool for building communities of practice across agencies to address challenges in supporting mental health and wellbeing services within Northern Ireland’s prisons.

Methods Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) is a tele-mentoring programme that uses video-conferencing technology to deliver evidence-based, best practice guidance and education; and case-based learning through presentations by network participants. Interviews were conducted with members of the Northern Ireland Prisons ECHO network on the impact of the programme, and analysed thematically.

Results The ECHO approach was considered effective by participants in bridging knowledge gaps between different levels, service providers, and institutions involved in delivering mental health services in prisons. Wider changes in service delivery, catalysed through the relationships developed within ECHO, were described as encouraging a greater focus on client-centred planning. The ECHO network helped to catalyse other important changes within the prison service such as the development of a new referral pathway between the Northern Ireland Prison Service and the South Eastern Health and Social Care mental health team, and new operating procedures for keeping people safe in custody.

Conclusions This study show the value of digital-based solutions such as Project ECHO to build communities of practice between different institutions to achieve goals such as improving mental health and wellbeing in a complex prison population.

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