Our NHS-funded programme on ‘Widening Digital Participation in Health and Care’ finished in March 2020. The report we’re launching today shares the lessons we learned; they could not be more timely.
We know that Covid-19 has changed the dial on digital. At home, at work, in our communities, in hospitals and care settings, digital has been central to our national response, and a lifeline during lockdowns for those who have the digital access, skills and confidence to benefit.
But too many are still locked out. If we don’t act now – to fix the digital divide – millions of people will be left further behind with deeply damaging consequences for health outcomes, wellbeing, and health inequalities.
Digital (access, skills, confidence) has become a social determinant of health.
I’m proud of how much we’ve achieved through both phases of the Widening Digital Participation partnership with NHSX, NHS Digital and NHS England. By putting co-design, communities and collaboration at the centre, we’ve learned so much about how to help people benefit from digital health, including those who already face barriers to accessing health care.
Our new model of ‘digital health hubs’ – tested and evolved through a series of pathfinders – stands out as a way to improve digital health literacy, and prevent digital exclusion from widening health inequalities. This is something we can – and should – build on.
During lockdown, people have felt lonelier than ever and have struggled with their physical and mental health. Digital health hubs have been able to tackle this by improving digital health literacy and through the use of digital health tools in a safe, trusted space in the community.
We urgently need a national network of community-led local digital health hubs.
It is vital that digital inclusion – and building people’s digital health literacy and understanding – is at the centre of population health, care and wellbeing strategies.
Digital inclusion and technologies can play a powerful role in supporting people who are currently poorly-served by healthcare and face wider, systemic barriers to healthy lives and positive patient outcomes. But this won’t happen without sustained effort and investment in communities as well as in health and social care.
A world-leading digital health service will only deepen and widen health inequalities if we don’t act on digital inclusion now. Let’s #FixtheDigitalDivide.