Our thoughts

The NHS spends more than half its budget on people who can’t access the internet – here’s what I’m doing to change that

Our Group CEO, Helen Milner OBE, shines a light on how digital exclusion exacerbates health inequalities and highlights the urgent changes we need to make.

By · 27/02/2020

On Tuesday, Professor Sir Michael Marmot released a 10-year review of his 2010 report into growing health inequalities. I’m sure we all agree with health secretary Matt Hancock that “there’s still more to do”.

Marmot’s review reveals stalling life expectancy for men and women in England since 2010. The more deprived the area, the shorter the life expectancy. The trends show that people in poorer areas spend more of their lives in ill health than those in affluent areas, and that life expectancy among women in the poorest communities in England has seen the biggest decline (on top of this, there’s a clear north-south divide). The poorest in our society will die sooner, and live longer with health-limiting conditions.

What Professor Marmot describes is shocking, and supports our own research, but is it impossible to overcome? At the Good Things Foundation, we don’t think so. In fact, our digital inclusion charity is already showing there’s a way to tackle the problem.

“Being able to use digital tools has given me a sense of self-worth again.”
Donna Murray

We know social exclusion has a strong correlation to digital exclusion, and together they exacerbate health inequality. There are almost 12 million people who lack the digital skills essential for life in the UK today, and the digitally-excluded account for half of NHS spending.

We’re already targeting these 12 million people through piloting, with the NHS’s support, 32 Digital Health Hubs across the country. These community-led hubs, which focus on the prevention of ill health, offer free support ranging from YouTube-based musical memory sessions for people with dementia, to peer-to-peer internet searching for healthy recipes. It’s a partnership model that takes health to the people, putting digital health tools in the hands of the poorest in society.

An example of someone we’ve supported is Donna Murray, who left the armed forces with poor mental health, and didn’t know where to look for support. Through her local health hub in Saltburn, she was able to find not only information about how to manage her conditions, but also an online community. “I was hopeless,” she says, “completely socially isolated. I was the biggest technophobe and couldn’t even send an email. Being able to use digital tools has given me a sense of self-worth again.” It’s not just about the tangible benefits of learning to find health advice or make a GP appointment online. It’s about the intangible benefits of taking control of one’s health.

Digital Health Hubs have already made a huge difference to the lives of so many. With more NHS investment, we can scale this model to the communities that the Marmot Review has shown so badly need it. With a record £33.9bn-a-year investment in the NHS, there should be funds to do so.

Professor Marmot said when health stops improving, society has stopped improving. We welcome his recommendation for a cross-government effort to address health inequalities – and believe it’s imperative for digital inclusion to be embedded in this effort.

Check out the original piece on the Independent website.

Helen Milner

Helen Milner OBE

Chief Executive

Helen’s job is to keep all of the plates spinning, she’s passionate about helping people to get the most out of the web and all of the opportunities it brings.