NHS Digital begins new digital participation push

Projects in Islington and Sheffield lead next wave of programme to get more people using digital healthcare tools

NHS Digital has kicked off the latest phase of its Widening Digital Participation (WDP) programme with pathfinder projects in Islington and Sheffield.

These will be the first of 20 initiatives over the next three years, run in partnership with the Good Things Foundation, backed by £2 million in funding and aimed at getting more people to use digital healthcare services.

The Islington project involves developing ways to support young people with mental health problems, while the one in Sheffield covers social prescribing, supporting older people with one or more long term conditions.

Both involve working with the local clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) to develop models for local partnerships, gathering evidence and lessons to be shared around the NHS.

A spokesperson for NHS Digital said it is currently open to bids from healthcare organisations on ideas for 18 more pathfinders to run in this phase.

Taking control

WDP programme director at NHS Digital, Amanda Neylon, said: “We know that there is a strong correlation between digital exclusion and health inequalities. Through this project we hope to enable and support vulnerable people to take control of their own healthcare by providing them with the skills and confidence to go online and access digital health information and services.”

WDP was launched in July 2013, aimed at giving people who are socially excluded the digital skills to use online sources to manage their own health.

The Good Things Foundation, previously named the Tinder Foundation, published a report in July of last year saying that almost 222,000 people, 82% from socially excluded groups, had been trained to use the tools. This produced reductions in the number of calls and visits to GPs, calls to NHS 111 and A&E visits, and increases in online booking for GP appointments and repeat prescriptions.

Helen MilnerThe foundation’s chief executive, Helen Milner (pictured), said: “We're passionate about creating a digitally confident population and through our 3,000 community hubs we know Good Things Foundation can play a crucial role in scaling digital health inclusion interventions and forming an important backbone for people-powered health”. 

“Digital healthcare is an area where the ‘furthest first’ are set to gain the most. By pursuing this project we can relieve pressure on NHS services, reduce costs, and contribute towards health as a social movement, putting people in control of their healthcare and improving their wellbeing.”