Working with the voluntary and community sector to empower people to manage their health and care digitally

Summary

Nicola Fulton, stakeholder engagement and communications lead for Empower the Person, which is part of the Digital Transformation Portfolio, discusses how forging a strong strategic relationship with the voluntary and community sector will make a real difference. The Empower the Person team leads on developing digital health services and tools to enable people to manage their health and care.

By Nicola Fulton, 28 September 2018

Photo of Nicola Fulton head and shoulders

My team in NHS England is responsible for transforming how people can manage their health and care and access services using digital technology. We believe online health information and services can improve people’s health and wellbeing, patients’ experience, and reduce pressures on frontline services.

As we develop the long term plan, we’re setting out the need for a ‘digital-by-desire’ approach to make the NHS sustainable. With a renewed focus on reducing health inequalities and health prevention, and with new clinical priority areas for certain groups such as those with learning disabilities and autism, if we are to succeed then we know it’s vital that digital health services are available, accessible and useful for everyone who needs them.  

It’s a point of principle for us that we’re open and transparent about our plans and thinking, and that we work closely with partners to develop digital services effectively. Our many partners come from within the NHS and beyond, from academia to industry and medical associations to care providers.

Among these is the need for a strong strategic partnership with the voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sector. There are over 168,000 VCSE organisations in the UK, most of which focus on healthcare, children and disability. It’s clear that we won’t achieve digital transformation and channel shift in healthcare if we don’t work closely, openly and collaboratively with this sector; from co-designing digital content, gathering insight and evidence from different patient representative bodies, to hearing the voices of end users and user testing.

Last week (19 September) we organised a digital health roundtable, bringing together 22 national condition charities, think tanks, and patient and carer voice organisations. There was huge energy, excitement and enthusiasm for the vision and progress being made on digital transformation.

From a lively discussion, we heard from those around the table on the need to better synchronise digital plans and roadmaps between the NHS and voluntary sector so everyone knows what is being developed, where gaps and unmet needs are, and how best to connect up digital services for different patient and citizen groups. To understand what the priorities are for NHS digital health services, and the points at which condition specific or demographic specific digital tools can link in was also raised. Many commented on the need to educate and inform the healthcare workforce on the benefits of digital services so they in turn promote their use to their patients and carers. And sharing the learnings and evaluation from digital trials and pilots was advocated.

We discussed how we should work together going forward on projects including co-producing clinically assured online health advice and content, accessibility and design standards, and how we connect VCSE digital tools to patients through ‘gateway’ platforms such as the NHS App and the NHS Apps Library.

I’m now exploring how we take this forward practically such as through a Digital Health VCSE forum or taskforce, or by using digital tools such as Slack for collaboration.

If you would like to find out more or give your ideas on how the VCSE and NHS work together on digital health and care, get in touch with me at nicola.fulton1@nhs.net. Or check out our Empower the Person digital roadmap and other resources at www.nhs.uk/transformation.