In response to Covid-19, across the NHS we have seen a massive shift to online services, with many appointments delivered virtually by phone or video consultation. Face-to-face appointments are still happening where they need to, but looking ahead, if digital services are here to stay, what does that mean for the digitally excluded? And how can we make sure these individuals, and these communities aren’t left behind?

Someone could be digitally excluded because they don’t have access to the internet due to technology or the cost of getting online, they don’t have the literacy, digital literacy skills or confidence to get online or they are unable to use technology for other reasons (such as physical disabilities or cognitive impairment). Some people also have concerns over privacy and how data will be used and chose not to engage with digital services for this reason.

Digital exclusion matters because it is linked to loneliness and isolation and the wider determinants of health (including poverty, income and employment). It can also affect particular groups in society including the homeless, refugees, those with English as a second language, people with mental health issues or learning difficulties and the socially isolated. If we don’t do something to address it, it could further widen inequalities that already exist in society.

The rapid progress we have made in launching new digital services is a real credit to our staff, partners and many citizens who have embraced this change. But now we need to reach out and engage with our citizens to make sure no-one is left behind.

We have already started some work on this, where we are looking to engage with people who don’t access digital services and there are some great examples of partners such as the Surrey Coalition, who have launched a Tech to Community Connect Project to help get people online.

There’s a lot more we want to do – and we also recognise that going online is a choice. Our Chief Digital Officer Katherine Church and Citizen Ambassador for Digital Non Hill recently presented on this topic at our first System Board meeting in public. You will be able to see their presentation, and hear more about our plans, here soon.