Digital Inclusion helps patients access more NHS services across the region

Patients across Humber, Coast and Vale are benefitting from improved access to digital healthcare services thanks to the efforts of the Partnership’s Digital Inclusion Working Group.

In an age of increasing reliance on digital methods of communication and a move to more remote consultations and appointments, health and social care providers are working to find solutions to technological barriers for patients, including lack of confidence, capability and access.

According to NHS Digital, up to 10% of the region’s population have issues accessing digital services, while 20% lack the necessary digital skills and the Working Group, which represents partner organisations across health and social care, is striving to increase access and reduce barriers to inclusion. Our research has confirmed that the biggest barrier to access is a lack of necessary skills and assistance, and so efforts are being increased to support individuals, address training needs, provide devices and connectivity where needed and to develop skills and confidence.

The Digital Inclusion Working Group is working alongside mhabitat, a co-design, digital inclusion and innovation team hosted by the NHS, to help engage with staff at all levels, and across all partner organisations, to recognise and understand the issues and to incorporate inclusive digital systems into all new service designs. GP Practices are now able to help identify individuals who are digitally excluded, and these patients can be referred to social prescribers who can signpost services that can provide support.

In June 2020 over 500 tablet computers were supplied to care homes in Humber, Coast and Vale for online GP consultations, at a time when the number of face to face visits needed to be reduced. This enabled care home staff to consult with GPs if they had any queries about the health of a resident, and also participate in training webinars. This ensured that residents, who are among the most at-risk groups in our communities, could still receive the care and support they would normally from GPs, without an increased risk of exposure to COVID-19

Assistance has also been provided to support groups including Cognitive Stimulation Therapy and dementia support, where face-to-face sessions have not been possible during the pandemic. We invested in tablets for service users, so they could attend sessions online via Zoom, and provided essential guidance on use of the technology. Groups have been able to meet online, helping to reduce social isolation and to maintain continuity of care by providing patients with much needed access to health and wellbeing support.

We held a Digital Inclusion Webinar on Thursday 3rd December and representatives across the system joined discussions on the progress of the work underway, including our work with shared records, ensuring that no-one is left behind with our digital programmes. The Digital Inclusion Working Group has taken learning and feedback from this session to help develop a strategy designed to further develop sign-posting ‘navigator’ and social prescriber roles to identify patients who require support.

Our ambition is for digital inclusion to become business as usual for our organisations. We continue to work collaboratively as a Partnership to realise this shared ambition so that all patients have the access they need to digital health services.

Brian is also the Programme Manager of Digital Systems at NAViGO who have been recognised for their work in improving access to digital mental health services. NAViGO is the leading provider of mental health services to the NHS and beyond across North East Lincolnshire.

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