NHS Long-Term Plan: Prevention and saving lives through digital and in the community

This morning, I got a letter from my doctor. I’m perfectly well, so it was a bit of a surprise to receive. The letter said (I paraphrase) that he hadn’t seen me for a while and he was wondering how I was getting on, that he knew I was busy and so if I preferred having a chat on the phone that would be fine. This has never happened to me before and asking around the team, it doesn’t seem to have happened to any of my colleagues either. Is this a new approach to preventing illness rather than just curing it? As it happened on the same day as the NHS’s Long-Term Plan, it definitely got me thinking about the importance of prevention and personalised care, and the role both digital and community support can play in this.

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Tim Brazier, our Head of Service Design, shows residents in Nailsea how they can use digital health resources, as part of the NHS Widening Digital Participation programme

The Long Term Plan really resonated with me. It’s great to see the level of ambition and the focus on digital, prevention and community. It’s really well thought through, it’s clear, and it should help to save lives. It has also made me realise (again) just how lucky we are to have a world class health service that’s free at the point of use. All praise for the NHS.

There are three big things that jumped out at me from the Plan: digital, prevention and community.

Digital, Prevention, Community

Digital, prevention, and community have been cornerstones of our approach over the last decade. We believe in a world where everyone benefits from digital, so it’s not surprising this is central to the work we do. And we achieve this through a movement of community-based organisations across the country who can tailor support based on the needs of the people they’re helping. By doing this, we are helping to prevent a range of issues – from loneliness through to mental health issues, poverty and a lack of skills. We’re preventing people from becoming even more excluded. I’m pleased that the NHS is recognising the importance and value of both digital and community, and the crucial role they can play in the prevention of illness.

Opportunities and risks

There is no doubt that digital technology offers huge opportunities to improve health and healthcare in the UK. But there is a word of warning to those who are hoping to build a digital-first service – and there are some hard lessons to be learned from the digitalisation of Universal Credit as we build a ‘digital first’ NHS.

The plan states that the NHS will ensure technologies work for everyone including people who are the most ‘technology averse’. But this is no simple feat. Digital First is a great ambition as long as it’s for everybody. Understanding and building services for those with no or very low digital skills is a huge challenge – but one that must be met in order to ensure that this ambitious plan can be realised.

A digital NHS for everybody

There are 11.3m people in the UK who do not have basic online skills such as being able to search for information, fill out a form or send an email. These people are more likely to be older, poorer and living with disabilities, to be at risk of conditions like type 2 diabetes, depression and anxiety, and so it follows that they are more likely to need health services and support.

Our research shows that there is a complex set of digital and social barriers to people engaging with and using digital technology. Factors such as poverty, low literacy levels, lack of basic English skills, poor mental health and low confidence and self-esteem can all play a part. I want these people to enjoy a great health service and better health, as well as people like me who know how to navigate the health services I need (although my GP preferred letters and a chat over the phone.

The good news for Matt Hancock is that we’re here to help. I hope 2019 is the year that we can do just that, helping Matt, Simon Stevens, and their team to understand how to join up the hyperlocal informal health ecosystem and the formal work of the NHS. We really think we’ve discovered a way to blend the very human-centred support (offline) with the great online and offline formal support on offer from the NHS. Through our delivery of the NHS Widening Digital Participation Programme, working in partnership with local health systems, community and voluntary sector partners and national partners, we have been learning about the potential of technology to create the conditions where people feel more empowered to manage and improve their health and wellbeing and to access services where and when they need them.

Prevention in the community

It’s not just the NHS that has a role in helping people to find their own journey to better health and to avoiding potential health issues. We work with thousands of community partners, in some of the most disadvantaged areas of the country, who are helping these people every day. Often this is about partnerships between the NHS and local community partners. Simon Harris, for example, has lost weight and reduced his blood sugar level by developing his digital confidence after being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

In the first phase of our NHS Widening Digital Participation Programme (2013-2016) over 221,000 people were supported to go online and use digital health resources saving over £6m for the NHS in just one year and just by shifting the channel they used away from more expensive NHS support to the cheaper and more appropriate support channel – which might be online or the local pharmacist.

Over the last 18 months, we have supported a range of innovative pathfinders across the country, testing new ways of enabling some of the most excluded groups in our society to benefit from digital health resources. All the findings are available on our Digital Health Lab site.   

We worked with Stoke CCG to explore using social media to increase the uptake of breast cancer screening where early detection can significantly improve outcomes. The results saw a 13% increase in uptake of screenings in a deprived area, against a declining national trend.

We supported Nailsea Town Council to bring digital health to the high street developing a high street digital health hub  – connecting people with each other and with the digital resources they need to live well. One man living with dementia was able to learn how to use Skype to communicate with his family. As he was able to read visual signs, this was a much more successful way of communicating.

In Hastings, we worked with the Seaview Project and their partners to enable people who are sleeping rough to access the health services and information they need – resulting in a whole range of positive results which will have a preventative impact in the long term, including improving eating habits to help prevent diabetes to learning how to take blood pressure medication correctly.

The learnings from NHS Widening Digital Participation, and our wider digital and social inclusion programmes, show us that to fully harness the potential of a ‘digital first’ NHS for the most socially and digitally excluded people in our society, approaches to lifting barriers need to be person-centred, community-based and enabled through trusted relationships.

Launching the next five pathfinders

We are pleased to announce that in the next 18 months we will be spreading this hyperlocal digital health hub model in five more local health and care systems across the country;

North West London, Liverpool, Middlesbrough, Staffordshire, Blackburn.

We’ll be stress testing what we’ve learned in other areas to see if this digital health hub model could be replicated and scaled up. There will be more news on our Digital Health Lab as these hyperlocal pathfinders get underway.

Better health for everyone: digital, prevention, community

So well done Matt, Simon and your hard-working teams. Well done for delivering a world-class health service every day for all of us. Well done for a great Ten Year Plan. Well done for consulting with people outside the NHS. But, I think you can do better. Let’s work for a truly hyperlocal health system that joins up informal and formal support – both locally and nationally – to help us build a digital health service, run by the NHS with the community. That will really be a world-class health system that works for everyone.

Wrapping up 2018 for Good Things Foundation

Tis the season to look back at the year we’ve had at Good Things Foundation. Earlier this month we celebrated our seventh birthday, and I’m so proud of our teams on both sides of the world. Seven feels like such a turning point, and what a good year we’ve had to show it.

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My Good Things UK colleagues cutting the annual birthday cake


Here are my top five of so many wonderful moments:

  • Celebrating English My Way’s successes

In February we usually host a smaller digital inclusion campaign – think of it as Get Online Week’s little sister – but this year we decided to do something a bit different and we hosted a campaign called Hip Hip Hooray for English My Way. This one focussed on our big social inclusion project which helps people who live in the UK and who can’t speak any English to learn to speak and read English and help them to integrate more into their local communities. The fab titled Hip Hip Hooray for English My Way campaign asked members of the Online Centres Network who are delivering English My Way to host parties and celebrate their learners’ successes, using a special party pack provided by us. There was bunting! I visited an event at Zest for Work in Sheffield and was blown away by the dedication of both the team running the course and the learners themselves and all of the food the people had brought along representing dozens of countries from around the world. It was an inspirational time.

  • Welcoming new faces to the Good Things Foundation family

This was a year of growth. We’ve expanded right across the digital and social inclusion sphere and that means we’ve welcomed lots of great new people into the Good Things family. And what a great bunch they are! I’m delighted by the enthusiasm and commitment they all have to our aim of a world where everyone can benefit from digital. Once again, to all the new people, we’re delighted to have you on board. To all of the not-so-new staff members at Good Things, you’re brilliant and fabulous, and passionate and committed too, thank you once again for another year of hard work.

  • Hitting 2,000 network partners in Australia

In 2017 we ventured out to Australia, establishing a new Australian subsidiary and winning a contract to run the Be Connected Network, supporting older Australians to use computers and the internet. There has been a crazy amount of hard work gone into getting everything set up, recruiting our team in Sydney, and persuading thousands of organisations to be part of the Be Connected Network. We had a target of 2,000 Network Partners and at the end of October, we did it! And of course, that number is still rising. What a huge achievement by the teams on both sides of the world. A big congratulations to everyone who made this happen and here’s to the hundreds of thousands of older people who will now be able to benefit from using the internet. Find out more about Good Things Australia here.

  • Get Online Week is 12 and goes global

This year may have seen the UK celebrating it’s 12th annual Get Online Week but it was very exciting that we also went global to bring the campaign to Australia as well. Not only were people being supported to #Try1Thing new online through 2,298 events in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but 768 events were also held across Australia by 570 community organisations to support people there too. Incredible achievements from both Good Things teams and all of the organisations that hosted events to support learners.

  • Awards, awards and more awards

We have been very lucky on the award front this year. Not only did we scoop a Women in IT Award, a Charity Times Award and a Connected Britain Award, in the last few weeks we won two awards at the Learning Technology Awards – the bronze for Best Blended Learning Product and our Learning Team won the gold for Team of the Year. The work that we do is very rewarding in itself but it’s been brilliant to receive this recognition. Congratulations to all.

On top of all of this, we had our amazing Digital Evolution conference; we continued to support people to learn digital skills through our FDI programme; we’re working on a brilliant project with DCMS to create a ‘Playbook’ for local digital skills provision (if you’d like to contribute, you can do so here); we ran a wonderful programme to support women to find their voice and participate in society and democracy, called Voicebox Cafes; we’re working on the local, as well as the global level, in Leeds, Salford, and Stockport; our NHS Widening Digital Participation project has been testing even more innovative approaches to tackling health inequalities in hyperlocal digital and human health systems with medical practitioners, CCGs, and Online Centres, and talking about our findings in the open on our digital-health-lab; of course we’re also working with partners in Kenya; and so much more. (No wonder we’re all looking forward to a rest this Christmas!)

We have continued to work with fabulous national partners who share our vision at Lloyds Banking Group, Mind, Homeless Link, TalkTalk, and Google, as well as new partners too.

And there are even more super exciting things in the wings that I can’t tell you about yet!!!

Thank you to everyone who has worked to make good things happen over the course of 2018.

I can’t wait to do it all again – and more – in 2019.

Digital. Social. Global.

Last week we hosted our Digital Evolution conference in the BT Centre. It was great to have tech evangelist and Desert Island Discs superstar, Professor Sue Black chairing the day. I have known Sue for a long time and knew she would be an exciting and engaging addition to our line-up. She did not disappoint. Sue, you did an excellent job chairing the day and we were so happy to have you there. Thank you.

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Me with Dr Sue Black and Victoria Rodney of the Mercy Foundation in London. Image courtesy of Victoria Rodney.

There were so many brilliant speakers who all set out to inspire the audience and share their experiences to bring new ideas and learning to the delegates.

A definite highlight of the day for me was meeting members of the Online Centres Network, as always. You might have been inspired by the speakers but you all inspire me. What you do every day, helping disadvantaged people to make the most of everything digital has to offer, to find work, to make new friends, to build their confidence … that’s just to name a few things, you are amazing and it was so brilliant to speak with you. If I didn’t manage to catch you on the day, I’m always happy to chat. Tweet me at @helenmilner.

Some delegates even came from as far as Australia, Belgium, and the Netherlands! The conference was called Digital. Social. Global after all, and it was great to welcome faces from afar. And it was great that Jess Wilson, our National Director in Good Things in Sydney was there and shared some stories and experiences from Australia.

For those who couldn’t make our conference, you can catch up on the different sessions below. I’m already looking forward to next year!

Learning. Reflecting. Celebrating.

It really is the most wonderful time of the year. No, I’m not feeling prematurely festive but right on the coattails of another fantastic Get Online Week, it’s now time to think about our annual Digital Evolution conference. This year we’re calling it Digital Evolution: Digital. Social. Global and it’s taking place on Wednesday 21 November, at our regular venue of the BT Centre in the City of London.

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The conference has become an essential date in many people’s diaries, and, now into its seventh year, it’s an event you don’t want to miss. Not only is it an opportunity for us to bring together Online Centres, partners and stakeholders to celebrate all we’ve achieved over the last year, it’s also a chance to get inspiration for the future. Our speakers, panellists and delegates always come brimming with questions, ideas and ambition for their communities.

As an organisation Good Things Foundation has expanded hugely over the years – we now have a bigger team and broader horizons. Social inclusion and tackling social challenges through digital is a huge focus for our work.

We’ve also gone global. Good Things Foundation Australia has had an incredible first year (more on that next week), and we have a successful pilot in Kenya moving into its second year. As such, it seemed only fitting for this year’s conference to reflect these changes.

Self-described digital evangelist Dr Sue Black will be chairing the event. I’ve known Sue for many years now, and she’s a true inspiration and a real leader on the UK tech scene. I know she’s going to bring lots of energy, experience and knowledge, so I’m delighted to have her as part of the day.

During the day we’ll be discussing some new research we’re launching around limited internet users and how we can support them. We’ll be showcasing what’s new in the digital and social inclusion sectors, as well as what’s happening overseas as well. Plus, there’ll be a chance to network with peers, partners and friends – over coffee, lunch and even a glass of wine at the end of the day.

And following popular demand, we’ll also be bringing back our Design Studios – where we’ll be helping community organisations to develop practical ways to tackle some of the challenges they’re facing, leaving them with tactics we hope can make a real difference to the people they support.

The conference completely sold out last year, and we’re expecting this year to be the same, so make sure you book your tickets as soon as possible. They’re available on Eventbrite here.

I look forward to seeing you there.

Another spectacular Get Online Week

We’ve now closed the curtain on our twelfth annual Get Online campaign  – and what a week it’s been.

This year has marked several big achievements, including:

  • Going global: for the first time ever, Get Online Week has taken place in Australia as well as the UK
  • Exciting new marketing materials: sponsorship from Lloyds Banking Group meant we were able to provide event holders with tote bags, headphones and selfie frames
  • A campaign within a campaign: Get Online Week has fallen at the same time as our Bridging the Digital Divide campaign, meaning we’re raising double the awareness of digital exclusion.

A tour around Aus – #GOLWroadshow18

In Australia, members of our team went out to visit different events all across the country. This might not seem like such a big thing to us here in the UK, but with Australia being around 32 times bigger than the UK, it’s no mean feat!

National Director Jess braved a smaller aeroplane than most of us are used to, to make it to Canberra, and Partnerships Manager Cass was off to Adelaide. Meanwhile, Bridget made it all the way to Perth in Western Australia – almost 4,000 miles from Good Things Australia HQ in Sydney!

There were so many different events, from your familiar Get Online Week drop-in session to a ‘BBQ & Digital Skills’ or a ‘Digital Scavenger Hunt’. With 570 organisations registered and 768 events on the map, it was a spectacular first campaign for the Get Online Week Australia team.

GOLW-Aus

And in the UK…

The Good Things Foundation team were out and about at libraries, social housing providers, funding roadshows and more. We also made full use of the selfie frame in the office by seeing how many people we could squeeze into one picture!

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How many Good Things staff members can we fit into one picture? Lots!

My colleague Chris Andersson had a particularly good visit to Keighley in West Yorkshire where he met Barabara who’d seen an advert that Online Centre Airedale Enterprise Services had placed in the local newspaper.

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Barbara gets online to #Try1Thing

 

Barbara was a complete online beginner but had been bought an iPad by family members. Like many, however, she’d found that family are not always the most patient teachers so she jumped at the offer of free and friendly support. She was more than happy to board the community bus where the event was taking place and #Try1Thing!

There’s been lots of amazing activity taking place across the Online Centres Network and beyond, and I have loved seeing what you’ve been up to. Here are some of my favourite pictures that were posted throughout the week:

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Bridging the Digital Divide

This year, Get Online Week couldn’t have come at a better time – right in the middle of our Bridging the Digital Divide campaign. Just in case you haven’t heard of it, this is our big call to action for Government and other organisations to commit to the target of getting 100% of the UK digitally included, and to take steps to help us reach this target. Get Online Week is one way we can contribute to achieving this.   

Today, 11.3 million adults in the UK still lack the essential digital skills that are necessary for life and work. I’m delighted that these two big initiatives we’re running can work together to have an even bigger impact.

If you want to know more about Bridging the Digital Divide and what you can do to support it, take a look here.

Thank you!

Once again, thank you for making this another amazing Get Online Week and for helping us to reach more people with digital skills and confidence.

See you again next year.

Underrepresented Represented

Last week the government launched a new fund to boost the diversity of people working in digital and tech jobs. Welcome news to the sector and to people who would otherwise not be able to establish themselves in these fields.

The fund includes a “£1 million Digital Skills Innovation Fund and will help people from underrepresented groups gain the skills they need to work in digital roles’”and “an additional £400,000 to help older and disabled people get life-changing digital skills”.

According to a report by the British Computer Society, only 17% of the UK’s IT workforce are non-white and only 17% are women. It also says that 21% are aged over 50 and only 8% are disabled.

My work with DCMS on the Digital Skills Partnership Board and in thinking about how to make this happen in Local Digital Skills Partnerships has brought sharply into focus the issues we have with recruitment for digital roles and how essential it is to bring in more people and more people from the whole diversity of our nation (be it gender, ethnic background, or age). I’m pleased to see the Tech Talent Charter also got more Government support in this announcement – and they’re featured in the LDSP Playbook. (You might remember my blog about our own recruitment issues at Good Things.)

I’ve had a few ideas about career changers, inspired by people who have come to LDSP Creative Summits, that I voiced on this podcast recently.

Good luck to everyone who’s going to bid into this new fund – innovation is one of those over used words, but in this case the nation really needs to know how to crack this nut and to help grow a bigger, and a more diverse, tech sector.

Tech careers aren’t the only need out there

The additional fund of £400,000 to help older and disabled people is a welcome move to the Good Things Foundation team and the Online Centres Network.

Many of the learners who come into Online Centres are older or have some kind of disability.

According to Lloyds Banking Group’s Consumer Digital Index 2018, disabled people are four times more likely to lack basic digital skills – that’s 3.5 million people – and 28% of those aged over 60 are digitally excluded.

Disabled people and older people need equally as much help, if not more, to make the most of computers and the internet.

The solution we’ve been waiting for?

There’s no doubt that there has been more of a focus on digital upskilling in the past few years, with different sectors working together to make it happen. The Online Centres Network works hard every day to support people in their communities. But there’s only so much we can all do without financial support to do it.

We can’t go into this thinking that the new funding means we’ve found a solution to the UK’s digital skills problem. But we can go into it knowing that it will go a long way in helping millions of people to succeed in the online world and in digital and tech careers.

At Good Things Foundation, we’re always working hard to solve the digital skills crisis, and we have so many more ideas to bring to the table. We’re happy to talk any time.

Building a future that works for everyone. Double tick!

It was great to turn on the Today Programme this morning to hear Tracey Crouch, Minister for Sports and Civil Society, talking passionately about the new Civil Society Strategy, and her commitment to working with grassroots organisations to address some of the biggest challenges we’re facing in society today.

The strategy is subtitled ‘Building a future that works for everyone’ – a mission that chimes well with me and my work at Good Things Foundation since our vision is a world where everyone can benefit from digital.

So I eagerly read the Strategy and one of the things that struck me most is the recognition for the great work civil society is already doing, and a Government commitment to doing more to support this. Meeting with a number of Online Centres when putting our consultation response together I heard an overwhelming air of positivity and ambition about what we can achieve together. It is great to see the strategy committing to building on this aspiration.

There’s so much in this strategy to be happy about.

A key theme that comes through is the need to support community organisations, charities, and other organisations with a social purpose to strengthen communities, and to ensure people can have their say about the things that matter to them, combat loneliness, and drive inclusive growth. The Online Centres Network, who are based in thousands of communities across the UK, are already doing this on a daily basis. Tick.

And it’s about putting people and communities at the heart of decisions and decision making. Tick.

The Government will also be launching ‘Innovation in Democracy’ pilots, giving local people more of a say. I’m hoping our #VoiceBoxCafe pilots will get some local people – especially local women – ready and interested in taking part. Tick.

The Strategy commits the Government to a return to grant funding which we know provides greater security, particularly for smaller charities and organisations. We are also pleased to see again the plans to release £145 million of funding from dormant bank accounts to fund activity, particularly around financial inclusion. We know that inclusive prosperity is an area in much need of investment. Tick.

I’m really happy to see the Strategy’s desire to explore how technology can be harnessed to address complex social issues. As you’ll know if you read my blog often – this is something I’m passionate about and it’s right at the heart of what we do at Good Things. The strategy talks in detail about the role of tech for good, and the importance of using technology to solve complex social issues, like loneliness, healthy ageing, online safety, and digital inclusion. You’ll not be surprised to hear that this is music to my ears! Tick.

To do this, the government has committed to working in partnership with experts in both technology and civil society. As an organisation working at the intersection of these two sectors, I’m looking forward to the important role we can play in this. Double tick.

For me, the strategy hits the nail on the head when it says ‘digital technology does not bring progress when it simply creates efficiency. It brings the most progress when it puts the user first, and when digital services are focused foremost on meeting human needs’. We don’t need to get hung up on searching for clever tech solutions and building new platforms – sometimes the biggest impact can be had in using existing, and freely available tools – like using Facebook to bring communities together.

It’s important we don’t think of tech for good as a separate element of the Civil Society Strategy, removed from the people, places and partnerships that make our society thrive. Digital needs to become part of what everyone working in civil society does every day, and for every solution civil society develops, we should always be asking what role digital can play. Tech + people can bring holistic and scalable solutions. How can it be embedded by more civil society organisations more often to help to achieve an even bigger impact? This is something we will keep championing, along with our partners working across the civil society space.

There’s definitely a lot in it to be happy about. As Tracey Crouch said: “Our strategy builds on this spirit of the common good to help create a country that works for everyone. I want people, organisations and businesses to feel inspired to get involved and make a difference. .. Through collaboration, we will unlock the huge potential of this incredible sector, help it grow, support the next generation and create a fairer society.”

As with everything, the actual success will be in the delivery and I will be interested to see how the new strategy develops quickly into tangible action. As a resetting of the relationship between Government, and those driving social action, I think it sets all the right tone. I look forward to hearing more of the detail, and to playing a role to help with that and with the implementation both as Good Things Foundation and as a voice for thousands of community organisations across the Online Centres Network.

The first civil society strategy in 15 years. So, let’s get on with it.