Community learning centres can help those who lack digital skills to get access to health and wellbeing advice, according to an NHS-commissioned report.
The report, by charity Good Things Foundation, recommends that more ‘digital health hubs’ should be considered, with commissioning that supports their role.
The second phase of the NHS Widening Digital Participation programme ran in England from 2017 to March 2020, involved the foundation and NHS Digital supporting a number of local pathfinder projects across England. One was 65 High Street, a community centre set up in Nailsea in North Somerset to provide free advice on digital technologies, health and wellbeing.
The volunteer-run centre found that those seeking advice would not necessarily see digital technology as having a role in health, with two-thirds of people never having used the internet or apps in health management. Another early project, led by a GP surgery in Sheffield but delivered by a local community organisation, tested ‘social prescribing’ of digital health support.
The report notes that use of online health consultations and interactions has risen sharply during the coronavirus pandemic, but that around nine million people are unable to use the internet independently, with those who have disabilities or long-term health conditions more likely to be in this group.
It says that digital exclusion has become a social determinant of health, making it important to find ways to overcome this. As well as recommending more community-based work, it recommends involving patients, the public and practitioners in designing systems and improving the digital skills of those who work in health and social care.
“If we don’t act now, millions of people will be left further behind with deeply damaging consequences for health inequalities,” warns Helen Milner, the foundation’s chief executive, in a foreword.
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