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This is the first of many more posts to come from the Widening Digital Participation (WDP) team and our collaborators and friends. I thought it would be good start with a bit of background on the programme, set out what the problem is and how we’re going to approach it.

In 2013, the Widening Digital Participation (WDP) Programme was set up by NHS England to provide support to the millions of people (including NHS staff) who don’t have the confidence and skills to get online and benefit from digital health services, transactions and information.

Many of those people are heavy users of NHS service and are living with multiple long term conditions and have complex and costly care needs.

Investment in a programme to help people get online was a no-brainer really.  People being able to make better health choices and having better access to services means better health outcomes and ultimately saves money!

For the next 3 years, in partnership with the team from Good Things Foundation, over 390,000 people were supported with getting online and being able to manage their own health and care.

Where are we now?

In July 2016 the programme moved to NHS Digital with a funding commitment to continue the work up to 2021. The insights and learnings from an in-depth evaluation of the first 3 years helped us figure out what we needed to do next.

We know now that skills, access and cost are no longer the main barriers – for example young people are heavy users of technology but are low consumers of digital health technology. Most people now own a smart phone and are confident users of technology but we are still seeing low uptake in digital health services and transactions – particularly amongst disadvantaged and excluded groups.  Lack of awareness, motivation and low health literacy are also leading blockers.

So, our focus for the next three years is to:

  • research and better understand what the barriers to digital uptake are and what user needs are
  • provide a range of targeted support interventions – particularly to those who need it the most
  • ensure that digital inclusion and digital uptake is a key element across the NHS when commissioning, designing and delivering digital health services and products
  • share everything that we’ve learned

What’s ahead?

There’s so much happening which I’ll write about in more detail each month, but here’s a quick summary.

Over the next three years we’re going to:

  • Develop and pilot 20 digital inclusion pathfinder projects across the country. Our partner Good Things Foundation will work with patients, people and NHS staff to design delivery models and toolkits that are tailored to particular audiences and their specific needs. Here’s a map that shows the first 8 pathfinders that we’ve confirmed for this year. My next post will go into more detail on where and how we are delivering them.
  • Develop a digital inclusion best practice guide for commissioners, service designers and delivery teams. We also want to include a set of design principles specifically for digital health products.
  • Commission research projects to learn more about the needs of the most excluded people. To date we have worked with 2 homeless charities – Pathway and Seaview Project – to learn more about how homeless people use (or don’t use) technology and what they need to be able to get online to manage their health. Check out the post from Pathway on 8th August.

Nicola Gill, Programme Manager

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