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Digital health and care

We know that remote ways of delivering care work for many people, but they have made exclusion worse for others. Digital should always form part of a choice that people are offered rather than being the sole option.

Our Stance 

We welcome the NHS’s move to embrace better technology as we believe it will help give people better control over their lives and their health. But for new systems to work they must be co-designed with people and be easy to use to ensure mainstream uptake.  

Digital access should be part of a choice offered to patients rather than a sole option and people should be aware of this right to choose. Those who cannot access services online must be given an alternative offer that is just as good – we cannot accept a second-class of care, or longer waiting times to access treatment, due to digital exclusion. Digital exclusion is also not static, and it isn’t feasible for public services to think society will grow out of it. People move in and out of digital exclusion for reasons such as the cost-of-living crisis, and technology advancing beyond individual capability.  

Access to digital technology must also be improved. This may be through placing tablets within communities, such as pharmacies, as advocated for in The Hewitt review. It will also include involving the voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sector in helping to train and support people to use new technology. 

Innovations in how data is developed, collected and used are also very exciting and have huge potential. These changes cannot be implemented to the benefit of everyone without full consultation with patients and communities, co-production to confirm accessibility, and good communication to ensure people trust how their data will be used. 

Our work 

Since 2020, we have worked with our members to better understand people’s experiences of digital access and consultation experiences to see what has and hasn’t worked, and where improvements must be made. 

The VCSE sector is well placed to innovate effectively, and puts time and effort into relationship, skill and confidence building through the use of peer support. During the COVID-19 pandemic, our members were able to reach out to vulnerable communities, with different needs and find workable solutions at pace. As part of our project on Unlocking the Digital Front Door, we pulled together an inspiring list of interventions, innovations and initiatives that showcase these activities. This report has been widely read and referenced within the health and care system.  

We have used this knowledge as a launch pad to work with NHS England to improve policy on: access to primary care and other digital services such as e-consults; elective recovery (such as My Planned Care); and the use of, and access to, people’s data and medical records.  

We are continuing to be consulted on the wider implications of digital on access to healthcare, and advocate for the needs of those who are digitally excluded by listening to the voices of people with lived experience. 

Our Asks 

  1. Co-design: We urge NHS England to commit to co-designing and co-producing new access pathways to ensure that access for all is guaranteed at the start of any project. Ingenious solutions and ideas are readily available from those with lived experience and the voluntary, social, community and enterprise sector.
  2. Exclusion: NHS England, social care services and Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) must recognise and innovatively mitigate against digital exclusion both now and in the future.  
  3. Rights: The NHS Constitution should enshrine the right for digital access to be a choice offered to patients rather than a sole option. 
  4. Personalised: We urge frontline professionals to discuss different access options with patients to ensure people can access true personalised care.

Work with us

If this is a topic that is of interest to you and you would like to explore how we might contribute our insights and expertise to your work, we would love to hear from you. We offer consultancy and can design focus groups, roundtables, coaching and workshops to organisations who share our vision for more person-centred and equitable health and care. You can find out more here.

This page was last reviewed in December 2023.