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Digital inclusion for health and social care

What digital inclusion is


Digital inclusion is the ability for people to be able to use computers and the internet, to have have access to do so, and to have digital services which meet their needs.

Definition of digital inclusion

Digital inclusion is defined (in the Government Digital Inclusion Strategy) in terms of:

Digital skills

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


And access to the internet. People need the right infrastructure but that is only the start.


Services should be designed to meet all users’ needs, including those dependent on assistive technology to access digital services. Accessibility is a barrier for many people, but digital inclusion is broader.

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 to use online 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

The digitally excluded population

There has been real progress in internet access and use of online services. Today:

  • 86% of households have internet access
  • 75% of people go online via a mobile device
  • 82% of people go online every day

Screenshot of the GOV.UK Digital Inclusion Dashboard showing progress made on achieving a digitally inclusive society with the latest figures on digital inclusion.

The GOV.UK Digital Inclusion Dashboard shows progress on achieving a digitally inclusive society with the latest figures on digital inclusion. It includes data from Office of National Statistics, Ofcom, Oxford Internet Institute, Doteveryone and BBC social surveys.

But there are still significant levels of digital exclusion. 11.5m people in the UK lack the basic digital skills they need to use the internet effectively. And 4.8m people never go online at all.

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

  • older people – 51% of digitally excluded are over 65
  • people  in  lower  income  groups  –  45%  of  digitally excluded earn less than £11.5k a year
  • people without a job – 19% of digitally excluded are unemployed
  • people in social housing – 37% of digitally excluded are social housing tenants
  • people  with  disabilities  –  56%  of  digitally  excluded have a disability or long term condition and 27% of adults with a disability (3.3m people) have never been online            
  • people with fewer educational qualifications - 78% of digitally excluded left school before 16
  • people living in rural areas
  • homeless people
  • people whose first language is not English

Infographic showing who is digitally excluded in the UK and the reasons why they are not online.

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

Users of digital health services

Half of all adults access health information online.

72% of adults use a smartphone.

Two thirds of visits to NHS.UK - our patient information website - are now via smartphone.

One in ten people now have a wearable device such as a smart watch or fitness tracker.

Uptake of Patient Online is increasing but 76% of patients are still not registered for online GP services including appointment bookings and repeat prescriptions. One of the reasons is lack of awareness but another is patients (including heavy users of NHS services) not being online or lacking digital skills.

These videos from Patient Online illustrate the benefits to patients and the NHS of using GP online services, with personal case studies.

Last edited: 11 January 2019 4:55 pm