Health for All in a Digital Age

Last week, I had a healthy breakfast. I quite often have a healthy breakfast without the need to blog about it – but this one was particularly memorable. We met at the House of Lords with a group of partners and stakeholders to discuss the Widening Digital Participation in Health programme supported by NHS England.

Guests included some of our key programme partners, like Tim Kelsey – National Director for Patients and Information at NHS England, Alan Taylor from the Post Office, Andy Simpson from the Family Fund and Paul Scott from the BBC.

The results of the programme – now in it’s second year – are compelling:

  • 199,375 people have had their awareness of digital health raised
  • 113,427 people have been trained to improve their digital health skills
  • 38% of participants feel they have saved time by doing something health-related online
  • 72% reported saving money – for instance through avoided travel costs
  • 30% who had not previously done so have since used the internet to look up health information
  • 78% have started eating more healthily or taking more exercise
  • 51% report having explored ways to improve their mental health.

However, it’s also not just the impact of this work we were interested in, but it’s wider implications for the future – not just of the programme itself but of the NHS, and of wider social, digital and health equality in the UK.

The NHS is an important global brand – it makes UK stand out as a nation that believes not only in high quality health care, but in health care for everyone – no matter their age, status or income.  We are also a nation that leads the way in digital. Tim Kelsey noted yesterday that digital is a leveller and is more important that it has ever been.


We are still not an entirely equal nation – socially, economically, digitally, or medically.  The more articulate you are, the more connected you are, the more educated you are, the better able you are to get the most out of life under each of those headings.  And that simply won’t do.  Because the NHS is there to support the most vulnerable – and we’re proving that digital can help that happen.
What’s more, we’re also proving that it’s well worth the effort.  For instance, of our learners who would have previously gone to their GP or A&E for non-urgent medical advice, more than a third would now visit NHS Choices (22%) or a pharmacy (13%).  If each person did this once in the next year, this would present an overall saving to the NHS of over £470,000 within a year.

Digital health, I believe, will pay for itself, while creating the equality in the UK of which the NHS is both an integral part and a leading symbol.

The numbers and stats are all great, but I have to remind myself – and I like to remind others – that each one is a person whose life, and health, have been improved due to this programme.  You can hear from some of them in this video, which I think demonstrates the personal impact of our work far better than I could in my own words.

There were two key themes discussed at the breakfast. The first was how do we make sure that we leave no-one, like Betty or Pat from the video, above.  And the second was how we could achieve even more by working in partnership.

Of course we work with the fantastic UK online centres network – some of whom were in the room to talk about their individual health projects. Dave Edeson from Inspire Communities in Hull gave some particularly stark accounts of how digital health is transforming the lives of homeless people in his area.  We at Tinder Foundation provide them with great resources – like the Learn My Way health courses – and support, and (as I’m sure the UK online centres would want me to stress) grant funding to help them deliver.

Through their hard work, we are also forming relationships with local health partners.  25% of centres, for instance, are now receiving referrals from their local GP, and 61% have formed at least one new partnership to help them deliver digital health training.  We are also beginning to form relationships with CCGs, and with national health charities – like Macmillan cancer support, who were also part of the healthy breakfast.

But it’s foolish to try and divorce health from it’s wider social context, and the other partners – both local and national – who support wellbeing, reduce isolation, and work with vulnerable groups.  The Post Office, for instance, were also on hand this morning, as staff with low basic online skills have been training with local UK online centres, and then acting as digital champions within branches – signposting customers back to us if they too need digital skills support.  The BBC was also in attendance, one of our key partners in delivering our English My Way language programme for people who are excluded from their communities – and often health care – through a lack of English speaking skills.

The fact is, that if you know how to use the internet you can take greater control of your life in all sorts of ways. That includes employment and family and saving money. And clearly it includes your health too. That’s where partnership is essential.  And that’s how I’d like to see the Widening Digital Participation in Health programme grow in the coming months – in partnership.

We would love to know about your ideas that will help us to ensure we leave no-one behind as the nation becomes more and more online.  Because that’s what a ‘healthy’ nation will look like.

And whoever you are, we would love to work with you to make it happen faster, deeper, and better.  Get in touch.

2 thoughts on “Health for All in a Digital Age

  1. Pingback: Health for All in a Digital Age – Helen Milner | Public Sector Blogs

  2. Pingback: New year, new priorities | Helen Milner

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