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The NHS uses tech to help during COVID

From virtual pubs and fancy dress parties, for some, the most elaborate plans for dinner parties also include regular exercise classes.

These are just a few of the fun digital get-togethers that Eastwood Breathe Easy Group has enjoyed on Zoom calls since Coronavirus struck.

Members are all aged over 70 and suffer from breathing conditions such as asthma, COPD and pulmonary fibrosis – making them among the most vulnerable in Nottinghamshire.

In addition, several of the pensioners live alone – so when social distancing restrictions were implemented and they could no longer attend their weekly face-to-face support group meetings – they were at risk of being isolated like never before.

But help came from Get Nottinghamshire Connected, the Digital and Social Inclusion Project from Connected Nottinghamshire, set up by the NHS to help and support people across the city and county to benefit from digital services.

Rosie Atkin, from the programme, said:

A lot of people don't realise how technology can help their everyday lives. It is a great way of keeping and touch and getting support from peers, family and support networks. For those with long term conditions, like many in the Breathe Easy Group, technology can help provide vital access to health and care service. But taking those first steps - if you've never used a computer, smartphone or tablet before - can be daunting. In an increasingly digital world, where using technology for accessing public services, information, entertainment and each other is becoming the default option – it is now more important than ever, to make sure that everyone can get online and benefit.

Retired respiratory nurse Teresa Burgoyne, who set up the Eastwood Breathe Easy Group, recognised many of the propblems the group were facing and worked alongside Rosie, to help members avoid isolation and enable them to continue to support each other  throughout the pandemic.

Get Nottinghamshire Connected supported group members and taught them digital skills to help them gain confidence in using online devices and overcome fears about security and technical issues.

Vital help included a dedicated support line available for people to contact which offers free IT help – whatever the problem.

It was soon realised that some members faced challenges as they didn’t have access to an online device, such as tablet, smartphone or computer.

Get Nottinghamshire Connected set up a Tablet Lending Scheme so these members didn’t face isolation ana couple of members were loaned iPads.

Within weeks most of the group were able to log on to Zoom calls, engage with the Facebook page, message each other on Whatsapp – and buddies were enlisted to keep in touch with members who preferred to use the phone.

This has provided them with the support they needed to manage their health condition and reduced social isolation as they were able to interact with other members and get support and reassurance during this difficult time.

The pilot project has been so successful, it’s being rolled out further across Nottinghamshire.

A worrying time - and how we have been coping with the help of Get Nottinghamshire Connected

Breathe Easy Group leader Teresa has been leading Eastwood Breathe Easy Group, which is part of the British Lung Foundation, for 11 years. She is impressed with how quickly the support from Get Nottinghamshire Connected helped members as the pandemic struck.

Breathe Easy Group Leader, Teresa, said: “We had just started to work with Rosie from Connected Nottinghamshire when Covid-19 struck. All our members had lung conditions and had to shield. It was such a stressful time, really worrying. Many of the group relied on our weekly meetings for support in dealing with their conditions. It was a great network for them to learn from each other and become part of a community.

“The support we received from Get Nottinghamshire Connected was vital in helping our members access the digital tools they needed to get online and feel confident in using social media and video calls. Our weekly meetings, which were no longer possible, soon became Zoom calls where we have enjoyed getting to know each other by holding fun events, such as a virtual pub, fancy dress party and creating fantasy guest lists for our ultimate dinner parties! We’ve put our exercise classes online too, so that members can access them whenever they need. We’re doing everything we can to keep a positive mood.

“As well as breathing conditions, several members of the group have other conditions, such as sight and hearing loss. Get Nottinghamshire Connected provided the much needed support we needed to help our members stay in touch online. After receiving support, many of them have been surprised at how easily they have adapted to using the technology. Our eldest member, Dorothy, aged 88, is a regular on zoom – she’s great at joining the calls. She lives alone and the video calls provide her with regular company at home. Another member, Declan, has started to write his memoirs on Facebook. He says our Wednesday calls are the ‘highlight of his week’! We’ve also got a member whose wife is stuck in America. Our calls help to keep his morale up. Some members prefer to stick to the Whatsapp group and we have buddies for those who don’t want to use the digital tools. 

“Some members were lent iPads, as part of Get Nottinghamshire Connected’s Tablet Lending Scheme, to help them build up their skills which really helped to break down the barriers from technology.”

The support we received from Get Nottinghamshire Connected was vital in helping our members access the digital tools they needed to get online and feel confident in using social media and video calls.

Tackling the digital divide - one tablet at a time

Maurice and Margaret, aged in their 80s, from Eastwood Breathe Easy Group, were lent an iPad by Get Nottinghamshire Connected to help them stay in contact with the group, their friends and family amid the pandemic.

They have been delighted with the results. It’s been really interesting to learn something new, we weren’t aware of all the things you could do on an iPad beforehand. We owned a computer but we hadn’t tried to do that much on it – it was always being fixed.

Maurice said: “We got involved in the scheme because we wanted to stay in contact with people – and especially to join in the Breathe Easy Support Group meetings on Zoom.

“It hasn’t been without its challenges though; it took some time to get used to the search bar on the internet. It’s quite small, so sometimes it was hard to type. It helped that Rosie was able to show us layout changes.

“We’ve enjoyed having the daily access to the iPad, it’s very easy to switch on and start using in comparison to a computer. It has so much information all at your fingertips. Having access to the NHS website was very worthwhile or even if I just wanted to ask a question on the internet or to find the most up-to-date news.

“It’s been so worthwhile being able to get on Zoom so easily, just clicked the Zoom app and you’re in. We’ve been able to keep in touch with friends, family and support group members during Covid all because of this.

“Rosie has been excellent in the way she’s trained us up and showed us how to operate the iPad, especially at our age.

“Being a part of the Get Nottinghamshire Connected Tablet Lending Scheme has made me think about possibly joining a course at the library in the future.

“What would be good is if the project could help people to look at buying their own iPad or tablet if they were interested in purchasing one for themselves.

“We would definitely encourage other people to participate in the scheme, especially those who don’t have computer skills or those who are not keen on technology – it’s opened up so many new avenues for us.”

It’s been so worthwhile being able to get on Zoom so easily, just clicked the Zoom app and you’re in. We’ve been able to keep in touch with friends, family and support group members during Covid all because of this.

Supporting the most excluded people across Nottinghamshire - grants available

Following the success of the Eastwood Breathe Easy pilot, Get Nottinghamshire Connected  continues to reduce digital exclusion across the county and city by building on the work they’ve already done to reduce the digital divide through collaborating with Community and Voluntary Sector (CVS) Organisations.

The CVS Collaboration project focuses on offering grants to CVS Organisations supporting excluded people which want to tackle the digital divide by embedding digital skills training and support into the great work they are already doing.

If you’re a Community and Voluntary Sector Organisation, based within Nottingham and Nottinghamshire’s Integrated Care System region and are interested in:

  • Building links with your local population;
  • Supporting people to get online and access information and resources; and
  • Deliver digital skills sessions to support people in building their digital skills
    – Then this project could be for you!


Ashfield Voluntary Action (AVA) are amongst the first CVS Organisations participating in the scheme.

Teresa Jackson, AVA Manager, said:

We have recognised for many years the importance of using the internet to assist people to be able to live their best life. The Covid-19 crisis has really highlighted the difficulties people have experienced in not being able to access digital services. Whether it is a problem of lack of resources, or of knowledge and experience, we will be trying new ways to overcome these issues.

Funding opportunities are opening up later this year.

To apply you must:

  • Be a Community and Voluntary Sector Organisation
  • Be based within Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Integrated Care System region.

For more information, click here.

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