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Creating a new NHS England: NHS England and NHS Digital merged on 1 February 2023. More about the merger.

Part of Digital inclusion for health and social care

What we mean by digital inclusion

Definition of digital inclusion

Digital inclusion covers: 

Digital skills

Being able to use digital devices (such as computers or smart phones and the internet. This is important, but a lack of digital skills is not necessarily the only, or the biggest, barrier people face.


Access to the internet through broadband, wi-fi and mobile. People need the right infrastructure but that is only the start.


Services need to be designed to meet all users’ needs, including those dependent on assistive technology to access digital services.

Barriers to digital inclusion

Research for the UK digital strategy suggests that there are a number of important barriers, and more than one may affect individuals at any one time. 

They are:

  • access - not everyone has the ability to connect to the internet and go online
  • skills - not everyone has the ability to use the internet and online services
  • confidence - some people fear online crime, lack trust or don’t know where to start online
  • motivation - not everyone sees why using the internet could be relevant and helpful

As access, skills and confidence improve, it is increasingly important to tackle other barriers, including:

  • design - not all digital services and products are accessible and easy to use
  • awareness - not everyone is aware of digital services and products available to them
  • staff capability and capacity - not all health and care staff have the skills and knowledge to recommend digital services and products to patients and service users

Good Things Foundation has produced an informative report on motivations of non-users of the internet

People likely to be digitally excluded


of households have internet access


of people go online using a mobile device

There has been real progress in internet and online services.

Use Ofcom and Office of National Statistics data to see the latest figures on internet access. 

But there are still significant levels of digital exclusion, for example:


people lack the basic digital skills to use the internet effectively


people never go online at all

The Government Digital Service has developed a digital inclusion scale which maps individuals’ digital capability on a scale from 1 to 9, from those who don’t use the internet at all to digital experts. 

Some sections of the population are more likely to be digitally excluded than others. These are:

  • older people 
  • people in lower income groups 
  • people without a job 
  • people in social housing 
  • people with disabilities 
  • people with fewer educational qualifications excluded left school before 16
  • people living in rural areas
  • homeless people
  • people whose first language is not English

For more information on digitally excluded populations in the UK see the annual UK Consumer Digital Index from Lloyds Bank. The 2019 Consumer Digital Index shows:

  • 11.9m people (22% of the population) do not have the digital skills needed for everyday life in the UK
  • by 2030 it is predicted that 4.5m people (8% of the population) will remain digitally disengaged
  • people with a disability are 35% less likely to have essential digital skills for life

Good Things Foundation publishes an annually updated Digital Nation infographic showing who's digitally excluded in the UK and the reasons why they are not online.

Woman and man sat at table using tablet computer

Assisted digital

Digital inclusion initiatives can help users improve their digital skills so that they can use online services. However some people will still need assisted digital support such as:

  • access through alternative channels (telephone, face to face)
  • help from others to use online services

Health literacy

As health information and services are increasingly delivered digitally, the ability to use digital technologies is increasingly a form of health literacy. There is good evidence from the World Health Organization that people with lower health literacy have worse health outcomes. 

Read more about health literacy in the NHS digital service manual and in the Health Education England health literacy toolkit.

Wheelchair user and carer using computer

Users of digital health services


of people looked up health information online

in a three month period


people visit the NHS.UK website every month


of adults have a smart watch or fitness tracker


people made a repeat prescription request through the NHS App in one month

March 2020

NHS digital health services

This guide is part of the NHS empower the person pillar of work. Other programmes include:

NHS.UK website
NHS app
NHS wi-fi
Personal health records
GP online services
NHS 111 online

Last edited: 4 January 2023 2:39 pm