Our Widening Digital Participation programme with NHS England (2013 – 2016) was a monumental endeavour for Good Things Foundation, which, at the end of three years, produced some impressive outcomes. We beat our targets to reach 387,470 people with messages on digital health literacy and we trained 221,941 people to improve their digital health skills; through dedicated research we discovered so much about how the internet can benefit individuals in terms of managing their health and wellbeing; and we had the opportunity to develop innovative approaches through our pathfinder centres.
Since the project ended, we’ve been itching to do more in this field and that’s why I’m so happy that we’ve been awarded funding from NHS Digital for a second phase.
So will it be more of the same? The answer is no. This time we’ll be taking a different approach. We’re still looking to help socially disadvantaged people to improve their digital health skills, but this time it will be more focussed – we’ll be recruiting 20 ‘pathfinder’ centres from the Online Centres Network over three years. These pathfinders will gather insight and design services, resources and communications that can be used across England to support the NHS’s drive for a digitally activated population, looking at the needs of people with different circumstances and healthcare requirements have, and tailor approaches to digital inclusion to suit them
I see it as embedding digital health literacy in the health sector, rather than embedding health into the digital inclusion sector.
In the first phase of the programme this pathfinder approach was something that really stood out and helped us to reach those who are most excluded – the hard-to-reach fruit from the top of the tree. Successful approaches were developed, adapted and tested – such as Age UK South Tyneside’s work with those suffering from dementia – to engage people from these target audiences.
This time around we will be looking to engage with specific groups – people who fall within one of the six clinical priority areas identified in the NHS’s Five Year Forward View and those people who fall into ‘furthest first’ groups, based on Good Things’ own research and data about the most digitally excluded groups. We will be asking pathfinders to identify an audience at which to target their intervention – this could be people with dementia, diabetes, poor mental health; they could be from different ethnic groups, it could be older people or it could be the unemployed, to name a few.
Of the people helped in the first phase of the programme 82% fall into at least one category of social exclusion, 60% are in receipt of means-tested benefits, 44% are disabled; 34% are unemployed; 19% are aged 60 or over and 16% are from Black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) groups. When we look at our latest Digital Nation infographic, of the 12.6 million people who make up the offline population, 57% are aged 65 or over, 31% earn less than £9.5K per annum, 28% are unemployed and 26% are based in a rural location. These stats paint a very bleak but honest picture of the state of digital and social exclusion and the correlation with digital health skills in the UK. It’s so important for us to reach these people.
There were so many success stories from Phase One and I’m hoping we can gather even more in Phase Two, because this is about the people, after all. From Ken Brown, who used the internet to research his wife Val’s eating habits after she was diagnosed with dementia and lost her appetite, to 2 Millionth Learner Award winner Bertram Henry who got his life back on track by learning about computers and the internet after suffering a breakdown.
One of the Widening Digital Participation programme’s aims is to relieve pressure on NHS services and save the NHS money by encouraging people to do more independently – book Doctor’s appointments, order repeat prescriptions, look up symptoms to learn more about their conditions – but the great thing about it is that it helps people to become more confident and improve their lives. In phase one of the project, so many outcomes demonstrated these benefits to individuals. Here are a few key stats:
- 52% of project beneficiaries strongly agreed or agreed that they feel less isolated or lonely as a result of learning digital skills.
- 72% agreed that learning digital skills had improved their general self-confidence.
- 51% said they used the internet to explore ways to improve mental health and wellbeing (eg. strategies for managing stress).
In Phase Two, we will make a significant impact to the number of people who are excluded from using digital as part of their healthcare. Our aim is to use the materials and insights developed by the pathfinders to engage 280,000 people in digital health literacy – each pathfinder will work with a small group of 50 to carry out in-depth user-research, user-testing and co-design to make sure the activities they are piloting meet the specified outcomes.
Organisationally, Good Things Foundation is really looking forward to working closely with NHS Digital on the project. We pride ourselves on being an open, flexible and collaborative organisation in all of our work and we firmly believe that this second phase of the project will not only change the lives of the thousands of people supported through it, but will change the landscape of digital inclusion in healthcare for many years to come.