Widening Digital Participation programme 'can help end digital exclusion, once and for all'

Posted On: 
21st July 2016

This week at a House of Lords reception, the Tinder Foundation and NHS England launched the Widening Digital Participation programme

“It just makes sense,” Bob Gann said of the project, Widening Digital Participation, which has successfully managed to marry health and digital, allowing those suffering from the former to be helped by the latter.

Mr Gann, Programme Director for NHS England, is enthusiastic about the effect the initiative has had.

This week, Tinder Foundation, members of the UK online centres network it manages, and representatives of NHS England joined together to celebrate the launch of their report which sums up the three year programme which concluded in March this year.

Over 380,000 people have been reached by the project and more than 220,000 people have been trained to use digital health resources by the project.

As Tinder Foundation CEO Helen Milner kicked off her speech during the report launch in the House of Lords, she commended NHS England for understanding how health inequality and digital inequalities actually go hand in hand.

Ms Milner painted a picture of digital inclusion in the UK, saying: “We have 12.6 million people in this country who lack the basic functional digital literacy to take part in today's society. Those people are excluded, some of them by age but others because of poverty, poor educational attainment and unemployment and those deep seated social inequalities that they're experiencing in their local communities.”

“We know in places like Glasgow and Birmingham, people living in two different wards, political wards, can have a life expectancy difference of about 10 years and that's shocking. Of course, we're all here because we love digital and we know that digital can drive change, drive achievement, and can bring down those inequalities. That's what the Widening Digital Participation programme has been about.

“Now we that we know health inequality, social inequality and digital inequality all go hand in hand, we can keep working together on this programme and others to make sure we can provide and we can build as equal a nation as we can and end digital exclusion once and for all.”

Speaking to PoliticsHome at the event, Tinder Foundation chairman Lord Jim Knight explained why the project had been such a success: “The ability to help patients take more responsibility for their own health, to empower them to deal with their lifestyle that impacts on their health through digital, as well as accessing things directly like prescriptions, is a hugely important and more efficient service in terms of equality of patient delivery but also in terms of the taxpayer getting more in value for money.”

Mr Gann praised Tinder Foundation for their role in the project, saying: “Tinder Foundation have been really great delivery partners, they've had great links into local communities, they've been able to mobilise that for us and they've been real enthusiasts. The programme just makes absolute sense.

“On the one hand we want people to get online for their health, and on the other hand the people that most need to do that are the least likely to be online, older people particularly, but also those with disabilities and poor people so it's kind of a no brainer that if we're going to have a digital revolution in health, we need to support those people.”

Leigh Calladine, who works at the Edlington Hill Top Centre, highlighted how digital support can really have a massive effect.

“We're in a position then to talk where the doctors remit fails, it hasn't got the time, or the remit stops, we've then got the time to talk through them and show them things like NHS Choices, suitable websites, suitable online support groups where they can get reliable information and the confidence to enter online forums to get that support because you're giving them the digital literacy, the basic literacy to deal with that situation,” she remarked.

Ms Calladine used an example of a man who had called out ambulances 48 times in a 10 month period. He made those calls because he had had an angina attack and had not gone to bed for two years, choosing rather to sleep upright in a chair because he was terrified of having another attack.

The man eventually got help thanks to Ms Calladine and her team, who helped them filling out forms with him, applied for supporting housing and benefits with him.

She said: “He's still not independent but he has that support and obviously he's now not calling out ambulances so for us that's like a real win-win.”

Following the speeches, one beneficiary of the programme, Nashon Brown - who is now a volunteer for North Somerset Training - told PoliticsHome how the programme had been essential to improving his self-confidence.

 “It’s a brilliant thing they are doing. I’m not yet a digital whizz, but I’m constantly learning and getting better. I now have the confidence to open up a laptop or PC and search for websites. I think it’s great.”