In his New Year article for Conservative Home, Matt Hancock laid out his aspirations for the NHS to take a more preventative focused approach. He said: “We must invest more – and we will. But it’s not just about the money, but also improving the way the health service is run and harnessing exciting new technology.”
He went on to talk of his personal experience of dementia, and of his goal to “treat early signs of dementia, not with more drugs, but through social prescribing – making use of non-medical services to help people manage their physical and mental health.”
His ambition to help people to take more responsibility for their own health I think rests in communities, and not only with individuals. Matt Hancock speaks of creating a health system that doesn’t just rely on the NHS to fix things when they go wrong, and he says that better tech means better health and social care.
Is this possible? Yes. Is this desirable? Yes. Can we achieve this vision? Yes, and communities have a big role to play. Can we achieve this vision and still leave almost 12 million people behind? No, we can’t. These people lack the basic digital skills they need to use this new technology to look after their health and wellbeing before they get ill, and to manage conditions they already have.
At Good Things Foundation, we’ve been working for three years on innovative ways to bring digital health literacy and digital services to people in communities in order to achieve better health outcomes, as part of our Widening Digital Participation programme. This has led us to a new model for Digital Health Hubs. These hubs - which are up and down the country - are doing fantastic work to improve digital health literacy for people who are at risk of being left behind, as well as connecting the formal and informal health systems, giving the community a crucial role in combating health inequalities, and ensuring everyone can benefit from the digital health revolution. It’s not just about the formal parts of the health system - communities are playing a critical role, especially in prevention.
This video showcases some of our fantastic health hubs so you can see for yourself how this model is working in action.
Widening Digital Participation hasn’t just supported people to improve their digital health literacy, but has helped us to develop an evidence-based model - local places in communities, work with local health systems, and boosting health outcomes. We’ve begun to scale our Digital Health Hubs and we hope we can scale this model further for even greater impact.
These Health Hubs are diverse - as are their communities - but they’re all reaching people and improving people’s health.
In Saltburn, community organisation Destinations@Saltburn has developed an informal space where they can provide holistic support to improve the wellbeing of local residents, working with a number of local partners including local GPs. And in Leeds, the library service is working to explore how digital can improve the lives of local residents, including carers and people living with Dementia, helping them to overcome barriers and providing a broad range of support.
In Blackburn, the central Library is offering it's community space to support people and groups with managing their health conditions. It has been credited as a key component for increasing NHS App registrations by 40% in the area.
And in Brent, they’re co-locating with local GP services to facilitate social prescribing, helping GPs to refer patients easily to local digital support.
We know this model saves the NHS £6 for every £1 it costs.
All of our Widening Digital Participation activity has been truly user-led (you can take a look at the co-design video we’ve also shared this week), and has demonstrated that digital empowerment is critical to driving better outcomes for patients, improving the success of public health and preventative interventions, and reducing health inequality.
I’m ambitious about the impact these innovative Digital Health Hubs can have, and I know they have a crucial role to play in ensuring the digital divide we face in the UK doesn’t hold back the transformation of our NHS. Inequality in our society is only widening - this has never been more clear than when looking at health outcomes. So the work these Digital Health Hubs are doing really is vital.
Last week we heard Nicky Morgan say that one of the Government’s major priorities is to help transform communities who feel like they have not felt the benefits of the change we have seen in recent years. She said: “We need to unleash the potential of the whole country and deliver opportunity across the entire nation. And we can only truly view the digital revolution as a success if its positive forces - the jobs, the investment and the creative opportunities - are used to break down barriers, rather than to entrench them. That means ensuring all people and all businesses have the tools they need to adopt and benefit from digital technologies - the connectivity, the capability and the confidence.”
With two Members of the Government’s Cabinet supporting our call for better basic digital skills and confidence, in communities across the whole country - then let’s make sure everybody knows about the power of digital, communities, and the power of Digital Health Hubs to boost better lives for citizens and to make sure no-one gets left behind.