Coronavirus and leaving no-one behind

05 Mar 2020 |Written by Helen Milner OBE


Coronavirus is currently at the top of all news agendas, and it looks clear that the virus is set to spread — with those already facing poor health outcomes likely to be the worst affected.

Blogs I’ve published recently have highlighted the importance of digital inclusion in improving people’s confidence and resilience and being an important ingredient to help to reduce health inequalities — particularly on the back of last week’s Marmot report. And the spread of coronavirus has thrown this into sharp relief, highlighting how those without digital skills are at risk of being left even further behind.

This morning I had a “shouting at the radio” moment. The Today Programme reported that the NHS may begin to urge GPs and hospitals to carry out consultations using video calling apps. “What about the 1 in 5 adults who won’t know how to do that?” I shouted, “Who’s going to help them? And they’re most likely to be older and more vulnerable.”

As well as the likelihood that some GP surgeries may begin requesting appointments via video call to avoid the virus spreading, basic digital skills are crucial for finding accurate and up to date health information, as well as to identify dangerous misinformation regarding the virus.

There are still 11.9 million people in the UK who are lacking essential digital skills, and the older they are or the poorer they are that number increases. This means that there is a significant proportion of the population who won’t be able to access the information they need about the virus and to keep themselves safe, and to access the healthcare services they need.

On our Learn My Way learning platform, we have a number of resources that can help those with low digital skills to improve them, and to access the support they need.

Our Learn My Way courses and resources can support learners with accessing health information including guidance on video calling, and directing people to the right health information and advice. The website is free to use, and built specifically for those with low or no digital skills.

We hope these courses can provide a solution to the immediate issues around coronavirus, and making sure the most excluded are not left behind. But beyond these short term concerns, there is a huge need to invest in initiatives that will combat poor digital health literacy and the impact this is having on health outcomes.

Tackling the coronavirus, of course, has to be the top priority for the Government right now — doing everything they, and we, can to try to stop it spreading, as well as treating those need medical help. But the contingency planning and solutions to contain the virus really only highlight how much we are relying on a 100% digitally included population. We can help everyone to gain the skills they need to keep themselves informed about emergencies such as this, as well as the digital skills they need to be part of a true digital nation. This is something we must strive for, to ensure we’re not leaving anyone behind.

Our new resource for a community partner’s session plan can be found here.