NHS initiative that trains vulnerable people to use internet improves health

New findings reveal NHS initiative to get vulnerable people online has dramatically improved their health and well being and reduced demand for front line services.

A report published today (18 July) by the Tinder Foundation, a charity that aims to make good things happen through digital technology, shows an NHS programme to train vulnerable people to use the internet has led to over half feeling more confident to manage their health, 21 per cent making fewer calls or visits to their GP and 6 per cent making fewer trips to A&E. 

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Matthew Swindells, National Director: Operations and Information at NHS England, said: “In the NHS we are fundamentally committed to addressing health inequalities and advancing the health and wellbeing of all families and communities across the country. Knowing how to navigate the internet can really help people to better understand their conditions, take more control of their care and lead healthier, more fulfilled lives.”

This behaviour change is estimated to have saved the NHS £6 million in avoided GP and A&E visits in just 12 months.

As a result of the Widening Digital Participation programme, run by NHS England and Tinder Foundation, 59 per cent of learners report feeling more confident to use online tools to manage their health, 65 per cent feel more informed and 52 per cent say they feel less lonely with 62 per cent saying they feel happier as a result of social contact, an important indicator for overall well being.

Searching online for symptoms and medications advice and using digital health tools such as apps help patients to take a more active role in monitoring and self-managing their condition.  

However, there are currently 12.6 million people living in the UK who lack the digital skills to use the internet in this way. These people tend to be older and more likely to be in poverty with high health and social care needs.

Life Sciences Minister George Freeman said: “Widening digital participation is empowering more patients to take control of their own healthcare needs. By giving the most vulnerable people in our society the confidence to use technology and online tools we are helping to save money and reducing pressures on GP and A&E services.”​

The programme has reached over 220,000 to date, targeting some of the hardest to reach communities, with 82% of those trained experiencing at least one form of social exclusion including unemployment, disability and homelessness. This follows the recommendation made by Martha Lane Fox in December 2015, to increase take-up of internet enabled services in health and care by designing digital tools and training programmes to ‘reach the ‘furthest first.’

Helen Milner, Chief Executive at Tinder Foundation, which delivered the programme through its network of local UK online centres, added: “The Widening Digital Participation programme has clearly shown that digital has the power to affect people’s lives at scale.

“The programme has helped people to move non-urgent medical queries from face-to-face and emergency channels to online ones, saving an estimated £6 million a year to the NHS, as well as ensuring people have timely support when they need it. The programme has also supported the wider wellbeing of those supported, helping to address complex issues behind social exclusion and poor mental health.”​




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