Community health May 1, 2019
Digital health hubs expand to combat tech divide

By News Feature - Accountable Care Journal

A digital health hub piloted in Nailsea has proved to be such a success that the NHS is scaling it up across England, as demand increases from councils in North West London, the Wirral, Blackburn, Middlesbrough and Stafford.

‘Nailsea Place’ is a digital health and wellbeing learning centre, established in 2018, where staff and volunteers can help people to improve their digital skills and confidence, so they can engage with online services.

The initiative has so far engaged 1,340 people including those with dementia, diabetes, autism and those acting as young carers. Assistance offered ranges from contacting friends and family over Skype, to ordering a repeat prescription, to choosing a preferred hospital provider for a surgery or appointment.

Given the prominence of digital innovations and tech solutions in the NHS Long Term Plan, it is crucial that divides in ability are tackled to ensure that existing health inequalities are not propagated.

Organisations in five new areas will now use their own digital health hubs to learn what works in their area. Using the learnings from existing pathfinders, including Nailsea, they will be making sure the most excluded in their boroughs have the chance to benefit from digital.

The project is a partnership between local NHS services, Nailsea Town Council and Healthwatch and is supported by local volunteers, including local students, who provide one to one support. It has also seen support from local organisations to national charities, who have run group meetings or hosted private sessions for the people of Nailsea.

Addressing the issue, Ian Morrell, Development Manager at Nailsea Town Council said, “The digital revolution has created disadvantages which did not previously exist, and many people feel excluded and left behind."

The second wave of hubs will be in Blackburn with Darwen Library, Staffordshire Refugee Centre (ASHA), a community centre in Saltburn and the Grenfell victims support centre in NW London. Each will be designing a welcoming environment and giving people the opportunity to learn more about their health, and whatever else they need at that moment in time.

This project is part of the NHS’s Widening Digital Participation Programme, which aims to make digital health services and information accessible to everyone – particularly the most excluded people in society.

Twenty digital inclusion pathfinders are being run across the country in partnership with the charity Good Things Foundation to test new ways to help people access digital tools to improve their health.