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Unlocking the digital front door

Our research and analysis of how people experienced the rapid shift to remote service models brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • COVID-19
  • Digital health and care
  • Health inequalities

This project explored how the move to remote service models during the COVID-19 pandemic impacted people, and how the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) sector adapted to delivering healthcare and supporting people as a result. 

The pandemic meant that access to health services changed significantly, with many services switching to remote access. The VCSE sector played a huge role in meeting local community need during the first year of COVID-19. Many organisations rapidly developed new partnerships and found creative ways to meet new needs and keep people well.  Through our research we found many inspiring examples of local innovations. 

Research findings

We interviewed people to find out about their experiences of this rapid shift. We particularly wanted to understand how it affected communities who might be digitally excluded and how these barriers might be addressed. We learned that, for many people, new remote ways of delivering care worked well, but for many others, they also made exclusion worse.  

Our report was published in May 2021. It shows how some organisations were delivering remote care well, but also asks how we can further support inclusion and offer greater flexibility in our service models. 

Alongside the report we published supporting documents including a literature review, personal narratives, a call to action and a poster/leaflet showing people what they can expect from services. 

Looking ahead, we want services to focus on offering supported choice and personalisation. It is clear to us that the health and care system and VCSE sector need to bring together its joint understanding of inequalities, digital transformation and personalisation if we want care to offer inclusive access, a good experience and equitable outcomes for all. 


This work has been commissioned by the Patient and Public Involvement Team within the Accelerated Access Collaborative, NHS England and NHS Improvement. 

The Abbey Centre in Westminster, the Centre for Seldom Heard Voices in Bournemouth, Change People and the Patient Experience Library were committed and effective research partners. 

We designed and delivered this project through a project group consisting of a number of our engaged and expert members and we are grateful to all who contributed. Two of them, Diabetes UK and Macmillan Cancer Support, also supported this work financially.