An NHS-commissioned report into digital inclusion in health and care calls for ‘digital health hubs’ to prevent exclusion from further widening health inequalities.
The charity, Good Things Foundation, carried out the review into the NHS Widening Digital Participation programme, which took place between 2017 and 2020, in partnership with NHSX, NHS Digital and NHS England.
According to the report, digital inclusion should be embedded in local health and wellbeing strategies, with the public involved in co-designing digital health services. This should include solutions for those who have low digital skills and face barriers to health care.
Digital health hubs aim to use community engagement to reach poorly-served groups and support access to digitally-enabled health care and wider wellbeing. They could be based in libraries, GP surgeries or other community spaces.
A prototype created in Nailsea, Somerset, was run by volunteers and helped people build digital confidence, signposted to local health activities, and motivated healthy behaviour change.
WHY IT MATTERS
The report says that digital access has become a social determinant of health. Being able to afford internet access and having access to digital skills to use the internet safely are now essential to wider determinants of health.
COVID-19 has further highlighted the digital divide and highlighted intersectionalities between ethnicity, poverty, poor health, and racial discrimination.
Although there has been a rise in digital services, around nine million people in England are not able to use the internet independently, with people who have disabilities or long-term health conditions more likely to be in this group.
THE LARGER CONTEXT
Concerns have been raised about ethnic minority data representation in the digital health space, specifically the problematic issue of “race blind” data.
UK charity the Health Foundation has warned that existing health inequalities could be exacerbated by the NHS COVID-19 tracing app, leaving some demographics at more risk of infection.
ON THE RECORD
Nicola Gill, programme lead for Widening Digital Participation at NHS Digital, said: “If we, as NHS commissioners, policy makers and designers of digital health services and tools, can do just some of the things recommended in this report and make a commitment to invest in leaving no one behind, then hopefully we can start to narrow the gap of health inequalities, and help people benefit from the choice and convenience they offer.”
Good Things Foundation, group chief executive, Helen Milner, said: “A world-leading digital health service will only deepen inequalities if we don’t act on digital inclusion. I hope this report inspires and encourages us all about what can be achieved, and what we still need to do, so that everyone – and every community – can benefit from digital for their health and wellbeing.”
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