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The NHS Commissioning Board (NHS CB) today announces plans to help up to 100,000 more people to use the internet to improve their health.
The Board is forming a new partnership with the Online Centres Foundation to fund existing UK Online Centres to train and support people to help their health and wellbeing through the internet. The funding will support the Online Centres Foundation to develop at least 50 of their existing centres in public places such as libraries, community centres cafes and pubs to become digital health hubs. These hubs will provide training and support to help people go online for the first time so they can start using websites such as NHS Choices. As people become more confident they will also be encouraged to do more online, such as provide comments on their use of the NHS or order repeat prescriptions online. To support the centres and the people who use them there will be online health information training on their website www.learnmyway.com.
In addition to the health hubs, the programme will also establish a new network of larger NHS digital projects working in health locations (including hospitals and GP surgeries) to pilot innovative approaches to getting involved in online healthcare.
The project will be evaluated after a year to decide the best way forward.
UK Online Centres are available to everyone and will offer free access to the internet. along with the support and information people need to improve and make informed choices about their health. UK Online Centres promote themselves widely in local communities so that the public know where they are what services they offer.
Someone who has already benefitted from her local UK online centre is 78 year-old Norah Hanley who after taking classes at her local UK online centre, went on to buy her own computer and lost nearly four stone using an online forum and downloading diet recipes. Her weight loss led to dramatic health improvements with her diabetes, cholesterol, arthritis and high blood pressure greatly reduced.
The NHS Commissioning Board is concerned that those who experience the greatest health inequalities – and who have the greatest need of NHS services – are least likely to be online. People over the age of 65 account for more than half of NHS spending, but 36% of those over the age of 65 have never been online before and half of the 8 million people who have never used the internet have a disability. Homeless people, travellers and some rural communities experience health inequalities and poor health – but often also lack access to online services.
Professor Steve Field, Deputy National Medical Director at the NHS Commissioning Board, and a practising GP says: “Widening access to the internet to people who up to now have been denied it is a fantastic way to use technology to empower the public. People who do not have access to the online world are often the invisible ones. It is up to us to make sure they are seen, heard and have access to quality care, regardless of circumstance or need. Modern day healthcare is far less about the doctor knowing best. Its more about the individual taking informed decisions and the doctor helping them get the care they need. Access to health information and helping people to understand what that means by using the internet,, although not the total solution, is a very important step in the right direction”.
Tim Kelsey, National Director for Patients and Information in the National Health Service says: “This programme is about ensuring – regardless of income, location, age, gender or ethnicity – can access the support and information they need to improve their health and make informed choices. The fact that those most in need of NHS services are those least likely to have the skills they need to access online services is something that needs to be addressed urgently. The internet can be a powerful leveler in ensuring everyone can access the services that they need, but we need to invest in supporting those who don’t have the skills – and this partnership with Online Centres Foundation will help us to do this.”
Helen Milner, Chief Executive of Online Centres Foundation says: “We’re delighted to be working with the NHS on this new programme. Digital inclusion will have a direct impact on the health of the nation, helping people take control of their own health and make choices that are right for them, and our network are perfectly placed to support people in their communities to improve not only their skills but their health as well.”
To support the centres and their users, a digital health information learning package will be established on the online learning platform Learn my way, which will help evaluate the best way to encourage people to find health and information and complete transactions online.