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Widening Digital Participation Programme helps patients improve their health

Two pilot projects are proving that digital technology helps people to better manage their health.
Widening Digital Participation Programme helps patients improve their health

Two pilot projects are proving that digital technology helps people to better manage their health.

Evaluations of the pathfinder projects in Sheffield and Islington, North London, have revealed several successful outcomes including:

  • Helping young people in Islington to better manage mental health conditions by assisting them to access digital tools that can provide them with support when they most need it
  • Providing support to patients in Sheffield to help them better manage conditions in a holistic way, using digital tools. 

NHS Digital’s Widening Digital Participation programme (WDP) aims to help thousands of people across the UK to boost their digital health skills, as one in 10 people in England lack the confidence and skills to fully benefit from digital, and in turn from the improvements to their health.

The three-year programme, run in partnership with Good Things Foundation, aims to ensure people have the skills, motivation and means to access relevant health information and services online. The programme is focusing on those who are socially excluded and so are most likely to suffer from health inequalities.

Sheffield and Islington were the first two of 20 local pathfinder projects being rolled out over three years up to March 2020. The pathfinders are partnerships between local organisations including Clinical Commissioning Groups, local authorities and community groups in areas of high deprivation and digital exclusion.

The evidence and insights gathered through these pilot projects have been developed into practical ‘How to Guides’ that can be shared with digital teams in the NHS and across Government to ensure all digital health services and tools are inclusive and accessible to everyone – particularly the most excluded.


Sheffield CCG worked in two neighbourhoods across the city, discovering how people with long-term conditions such as diabetes and asthma could use digital tools to improve the management of their health conditions. GPs referred patients to non-clinical support which reviewed their needs, introducing digital tools where required, supported by digital skills training where appropriate. 

The evaluation showed that 858 people engaged with the pathfinder and 108 received in-depth support.


The pathfinder run by Islington CCG looked to introduce young people to mental health apps, supported by digital champions in local organisations. This helped to support them in the time between them being referred and receiving treatment, and between treatments.

A total of 238 people engaged with the pathfinder, 33 received in-depth support and 65 digital champions were recruited.

Nicola Gill, WDP Programme Director at NHS Digital, said: “We are very pleased with the outcomes of the first two pathfinders, which have been successful in helping excluded and vulnerable people to take control of their healthcare by providing them with the skills to access digital health information and services. 

“We’ve learned a lot from these first pathfinders and we are going to look in-depth at the evaluation to see how the lessons learned can be used to support even more people and ensure digital inclusion is embedded across the NHS.”

Helen Milner, Chief Executive Officer of Good Things Foundation, said: “Digital has a powerful potential to reduce inequalities, help people to better manage health conditions and prevent illness. For this to happen, it’s crucial we are tailoring our approaches to the most excluded - which means focusing on the people and how digital can meet their needs, rather than looking for high-tech solutions.

“The findings from these two pathfinders, and those to follow, will help us to work with the NHS to shape policy and practice in this area, and ensure digital health really reaches those who can most benefit.”

Case studies

Sheffield pathfinder

Simon Harris*, aged 67, began learning online how to lose weight and manage his diabetes online with the help of the Widening Digital Participation Programme.

At the advice of his GP, he went along to a digital surgery at Sloan Medical Practice run by the Heeley Development Trust, which is part of the Online Centres Network.

Simon began looking up recipes and dietary advice on the website as recommended, which helped him considerably.

The advice to source alternative recipes to his usual go-to meals, rather than cutting down, proved more successful in helping him lose weight than previous diets he had embarked on.

“I feel so much better both mentally and physically,” said Simon. “It has inspired me and I feel empowered by my new knowledge.”

  • Not his real name. 



Note to Editors

  1. NHS Digital is the national information and technology partner of the health and care system.  Our team of information analysis, technology and project management experts create, deliver and manage the crucial digital systems, services, products and standards upon which health and care professionals depend.  During the 2017/18 financial year, NHS Digital published 275 statistical reports. Our vision is to harness the power of information and technology to make health and care better.
  2. Good Things Foundation is a digital and social inclusion charity with the aim of creating a world where everyone can benefit from digital technology. The organisation helps people to overcome social challenges, building a digitally included society and supporting people to grow their essential skills. Good Things Foundation supports the 5,000-strong Online Centres Network – a network of community organisations that help people to improve their digital skills, and to overcome other barriers to inclusion.
  3. For media enquiries please contact or telephone 0300 30 33 888.

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Last edited: 13 May 2019 10:32 am