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Widening Digital Participation

The Widening Digital Participation programme was set up to help the millions of people who lack the confidence and skills to access and use digital health services and information and benefit from their convenience.

With one in ten people in England lacking basic digital skills, and nearly six million people having never used the internet, digitally excluded people account for half of NHS spending.

Improving digital literacy can have a significant impact on improving health outcomes for patients by helping them to take control of their health and care. Giving them skills to access to the right information and services enables them to better manage their conditions as well as helping to relieve the burden on NHS services .

Our work

The first 3 years of the programme (from March 2013 to March 2016) was delivered in partnership with Good Things Foundation through their network of UK Online centres in deprived areas. The focus then was mainly on working with digitally excluded people to improve their skills.

With the most frequent users of the NHS also most likely to be socially as well as digitally excluded, the focus of phase 2 is to reach those with the greatest need first. We are developing projects with homeless people, older people in rural areas, patients in secure mental health hospitals and those whose first language is not English. 

Our approach is to carry out research and use data to identify where the greatest need is and to better understand the challenges and needs of patients, citizens and NHS staff.  We will share our experiences and insights with all of our stakeholders and strive to build digital inclusion into all digital services and programmes across the NHS. 

Project delivery

Over the next four years we will;

  1. Develop and pilot innovative and user-centred approaches to addressing digital exclusion, working with organisations including clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), local authorities and community groups in up to 20 areas or target groups (across all 4 NHS regions). From these 20 digital inclusion pathfinder projects we will design a delivery model and toolkit that is tailored to particular audiences and their specific needs. We will then share those insights with CCGs and organisations sharing similar challenges.
  2. Work with commissioners and designers of digital health services and products to ensure that the digital opportunity is available to all and that we develop services considering the needs of the most excluded.
  3. Develop a set of digital learning products to raise awareness of digital health technologies and their benefits and support users with accessing them.

So far we've...

  • developed a digital inclusion and health inequalities heatmap to help us identify where the greatest need is
  • set up 13 digital inclusion pathfinders including a social prescribing project with older people in Sheffield and one in Islington working with young people with mental health problems
  • published a digital inclusion guide for commissioners and service designers to ensure digital inclusion and digital uptake is embedded in all service design requirements