Championing Health in Get Online Week

20 Oct 2014 |Written by Victoria Lawson

This guest blog post was written by Bob Gann, Programme Director for NHS Widening Digital Participation.

Over a million people a day use the NHS. It’s the public service we all use. Now the NHS is committed to going digital to transform how people access and use health care services. Increasingly patients are using health websites like NHS Choices to understand more about their health. And by March next year, everybody who wants to will be able to book GP appointments and request repeat prescriptions online.

Yet the 7m people who have never used the internet include many of those who most use the NHS – older people, poorer people, and people with disabilities and long term conditions. If we don’t act to support them and those who care for them in getting online we simply risk increasing health inequalities. That’s why NHS England is pleased to be working with Good Things Foundation to deliver an ambitious digital health literacy programme called Widening Digital Participation .

As the NHS England lead for digital inclusion it’s been a very positive experience for me commissioning the programme from Tinder. But behind every service contract there are real life stories - great examples of grassroots community initiatives where getting online for health is making a huge difference to everyday lives. I always welcome the chance to get out and about so Get Online Week presented the opportunity to visit one of our digital health flagships at the Heeley Development Trust in Sheffield .

When I arrived at Heeley Community Centre I was greeted with a hive of activity. Local people arrived for a “digital surgery” showing them how to use good quality health information resources like NHS Choices and Sheffield Aches and Pains to check symptoms and see treatment options. Others were seeing how to book a GP appointment online, order a repeat prescription or leave feedback about services .

Particularly satisfying was seeing training in digital skills offered alongside other community health activities including talks on women’s health, massage sessions and healthy walks. Along the same road, neighbours working closely together, are the Heeley Community Centre, Heeley Green GP Surgery and Heeley City Farm. (As a keen community farm volunteer myself, I was particularly enthusiastic about the involvement of the farm and wish I’d had longer to spend there). These centres form the core of the Practice Health Champions initiative, where local people give their time to work with staff in GP practices to find new ways to meet the health needs of local communities.

The energy and enthusiasm of local coordinator Maxine Bowler shone through. Maxine described how digital skills are being recommended by GPs and other health professionals. Details of digital health resources are included on prescription forms, and a new video promoting digital skills training was launched for Get Online Week. The video will be showing on screens in the surgery waiting room and on the practice website. And Maxine is now working to get digital skills training taken up by the Sheffield Teaching Hospital, beginning with the musculoskeletal clinic.

All round the country, local centres have been showcasing what’s possible during Get Online Week. I was privileged to see just one example. If the rest are anything like this we have a phenomenal social movement.