200,000 people given the skills to contact the doctor online reducing NHS costs

200,000 homeless, older and vulnerable people have had ‘lessons’ to get online and contact their doctor reducing GP visits and costs to the NHS.

In the first two years of the NHS England pilot scheme ‘Widening Digital Participation’ 14,000 people registered with a GP and looked online first before contacting the doctor.

Half of those who would have gone to the GP or A&E said they would now use NHS Choices, 111 or a pharmacy first.

Run by the Tinder Foundation for NHS England, the scheme works with hardest-to-reach communities giving them the skills and confidence to access online health information.

Bob Gann, NHS England’s Programme Director for Widening Digital Participation, said: “As more and more health services move online, it’s imperative we support people who have the most to gain from digital, and who are at risk of being left behind. We are helping people manage their conditions more independently, supporting reduction of pressure on health services and optimising the use of GPs’ time.”

12.6 million people in the UK do not have basic digital skills (source:

Tinder Foundation has 5,000 UK online centres which use outreach events and community activities like exercise or cookery classes introducing an extra digital element such as finding nutritional advice, recipes and new exercise programmes online.

“We’ve seen first-hand through this programme the huge impact digital can have on people’s lives – helping them to find out about how to stay healthy, how to manage and find the best treatment for existing conditions, and how to find the right services for them,” said Helen Milner, Chief Executive, Tinder Foundation.

On the ‘Learn My Way’ platform people learn how to find out more about their conditions, how to transact with the NHS online, and how to choose and rate services

Ron Dale, 62, from Hull, was living in a tent by the motorway two years ago with poor mental and physical health and a gambling addiction. Out of work, homeless and surviving on out-of-date food he got help from a local online centre, Inspire Communities, and was able to find housing and choose a new GP.

Dave Edeson, Director at Inspire Communities Hull – part of the UK online centres’ network – said: “Ron suffers from particularly severe anxiety issues and dealing with receptionists that weren’t familiar with him and his situation had caused problems in the past – what may be an annoyance to some of us can be a very stressful episode for him. Now he’s much happier booking appointments and ordering repeat prescriptions online at his leisure.

“And not only is his new GP closer but he says the conversations he’s having with the doctor are making him feel much more included in decisions about his healthcare.”

People with dementia and their carers and people with learning difficulties and disabilities have also been helped through a series of pilots.

At one of the pathfinder pilots at Edlington Hilltop Centre in Doncaster staff are trained to identify digital skills gaps, and signpost patients to extra skills support.

Leigh Calladine, tutor for digital inclusion & community health co-ordinator, said: “Poor health in our community is compounded by issues such as poverty and housing resulting in severe social impacts. Following the digital skills training in the Edlington Practice surgery, there has been a marked reduction in repeat GP appointment bookings, which shows the impact of taking a more holistic approach to health and wellbeing.”

More than 300,000 people have been reached, and 180,000 have been directly trained to use digital health resources and tools in the last three years.

In a survey of 1,000 participants 83% said they felt more confident about using online health tools to manage their health as a result of the training, with 34% saying they made fewer visits to a doctor as a result of finding the information they needed online.


  1. Bill Joy says:

    Because the target population includes “older” and presumably “elderly” people, please give a thought to their poorer eyesight. In my experience, too many websites are designed for appearance rather than clarity. The wide use of fonts that are too small, and in ink colours that provide a low contrast with the background is all too prevalent. (I see this site does not like “colours”; why not use a British Enlish spellckecker?)

  2. Jacqemkes says:

    As a teacher and a chronic health sufferer I’d be interested in asking you if can might help with training. J EMKES see Twitter @BoariJacq

    See Excellence In Continence Care @NHSENGLAND

  3. phil scott says:

    Would like to discuss further.

  4. J Jones says:

    Not everyone in the UK has internet access – I work full time for the NHS and cannot afford to buy a laptop, tablet or smartphone. I am also wondering how ‘homeless’ people are expected to buy and use a smartphone when everyday is a struggle to get something to eat. As for OAPs on basic pension! OK, I know that there is internet access at libraries, but the libraries are being closed down. I am very concerned about this mass move towards IT.

  5. Dr L Lansbury says:

    Once taught where do these people access the internet?
    Are they able to access the internet when they are sick or have no money to catch a bus to a centre (if there is one within a reasonable distance)?

  6. susie wilson says:

    How does one get onto this method of contact with my doctor’s surgery? It seems very convenient. Do you have to be digitally unaware?