In a rapidly evolving digital world, digital services are becoming the default option for accessing public services, information, entertainment and each other. However, many people are still facing digital, social and health inequalities because they are unable to harness the benefits that digital and online services has to offer.
Digital Notts is moving towards a ‘digital first’ model for health and care services to reduce demand, variation, over medicalisation and treatment. To do this as a system, we recognised the need to reduce the inequalities that our population faces.
To understand what issues our population faced and to target our approach in supporting them, we undertook 18-months of research and worked with an amazing charity called ‘The Good Things Foundation’ to help us understand how digital and social inclusion directly impacts health inequalities across our population and how we could help to improve this.
Utilising the digital inclusion guidance developed by Bob Gann and NHS Digital and other resources available to us we learnt that whilst overall Nottinghamshire has a low – medium likelihood of digital exclusion, those at medium – high likelihood of exclusion predominantly lived in more deprived areas, faced socio-economic challenges and were more likely to live in poverty, have lower education and housing issues. We also recognised that those people living with a long term condition, disability or illness were much more likely to be digitally or socially excluded than others.
The research that we undertook demonstrated that whilst the majority of our population did not have any barriers to accessing digital and online services over a quarter of our population did. Over 40% of those people who could not use the internet said they would like to without relying on the support of others.
The majority of the challenges and concerns which prevented people from accessing the internet were linked to concern about internet safety, not having the skills and confidence and the cost and access to the equipment to be able to do so.
By understanding the demographic spread of digital and social exclusion, the key socioeconomic factors and some of the issues and concerns that our population faced we developed a number of support models which could be utilised by our population across Nottingham and Nottinghamshire to reduce these inequalities.
We partnered with 3rd sector organisations, charities such as Self Help UK – Beyond Diagnosis Service to see how digital could be used to improve the lives of those people living with and beyond a Cancer diagnosis. By recruiting Volunteers who already offer amazing emotional support and training them up to become a Digital Champion, they’re able to provide practical support to patients and carers from helping with online shopping or where to find up to date and trusted information.
Across the City and County we have established Digital Support Hubs where people can learn how to use digital devices through informal learning, having access to devices and guidance from volunteers to help improve their digital skills and confidence.
From showing someone how to get online using their smartphone or tablet, to setting up an email account and using health and care services online. Our volunteers help residents to build their confidence using the internet so they can experience for themselves the benefits it can bring to their lives.
We’ve been really keen to adopt the approach of taking health to people not the other way around, looking at the best way to engage people with digital and health – who wouldn’t normally take an interest. Alongside our static Hubs we also run a roadshow of Digital Support Pop-Up Shops.
NHS organisations are one of the largest employers of people across the region and in order to make a significant change, we recognised that not only did we need help our population through community based initiatives, but it was vital that we supported the up skilling of our NHS workforce.
We developed a Digital Champion Network and have recruited a number of individuals passionate about championing digital services from organisations across our system. Digital Champion training was provided to 45 health professionals to date, which has improved their confidence in the use of technology so they are able to better support their peers in the development of digital skills and the population that it serves.
But we’re not stopping there; we have plans to roll the scheme out further. With 131 GP Practices across the City and County and a fantastic team of Social Prescribing – Link Workers working within our region, these front line members of staff are often asked the questions around online services by patients. By equipping our colleagues with knowledge and skills they’ll be able to better help others understand the advantages of using the internet and technology so that patients, practices and teams can benefit.
One of the main barriers to digital inclusion for some people is the cost of equipment and access to the internet. To address this, we are beginning to introduce a new scheme where iPads are available for organisations and groups across the City and County to borrow. This is so that they can discover new ways of working to help people understand the positive changes that can be made to their lives through being online, and begin to bridge the gap between adults who are offline and those online.
Over the past 12 months Digital Notts has supported over 600 people; ranging from supporting them in downloading, registering and navigating the NHS App to basic digital skills to support them with setting up an email, managing bills online, online shopping and information linked to hobbies; it has also recruited 45 digital champion volunteers across the NHS workforce as well as the community and voluntary sector.
The impact that this support is having on our population is significant with everyone that has interacted with the services providing positive feedback that the services has given them the confidence skills and access to support to enable them to access online and digital services on their own.