On 26th April the quarterly partnership convened for the first time in 2022-23, the session was attended by over 35 engaged individuals from across the public, private and third sector. The event was chaired by the TIPS Stakeholder Engagement Manager Tom Hindmarch and he was joined by a range of speakers all focusing on digital inclusion.

Victoria Varley and Anna Homer, from Oldham council, began the proceedings by discussing digital inclusion projects led via Oldham’s network of libraries. Victoria outlined the regular support provided to residents in Oldham, targeted at the digitally excluded individuals. Support includes weekly hour-long digital support sessions (delivered online), regular digital drop-ins and beginner code classes. Victoria explained that Oldham is working in partnership with the Good Things Foundation (GTF) to increase the scope of their digital inclusion programme. Working with GTF Oldham libraries were able to offer up to 8 hours of tailored digital support to at least 140 digitally excluded individuals in the region. As well as the regular support library staff have been trained to help residents deal with specific queries such as visa applications.

Anna went on to discuss Oldham’s gifting and lending scheme, which began in 2020 in response to the pandemic. Anna stated that during 2020 Oldham libraries support GTF to distribute hundreds of devices to local residents. Following on from the success of that project, Oldham Council purchased 52 Chromebooks with mobile data for the library network to distribute and gift to local residents. Support directly from Oldham Council has continued, they recently provided 250 phones and tablets through the household support fund to be distributed by Oldham libraries. Anna explained devices are gifted via community referrals and once the individual is selected library staff to provide support with the start-up of the device. Anna noted that alongside their gifting programme, devices are also lent to residents. Oldham Libraries have a stock of Chromebooks that they lend out to residents, Anna explained that they work just like books but they can disable devices when they become overdue.

Cindy Withy from Community Action Dacorum (CAD) followed, discussing their project Staying Connected which addresses digital poverty across Hertfordshire. Cindy stated that Staying Connected is a co-created cross-sector approach to support people to access a range of services that improve their health both socially and digitally. The project brings together a range of partners from sectors and is supported by community volunteers to reach people across the county. Cindy explained when planning the project, they took a person centered approach and engaged the community before deciding which specific areas to focus on. The project focuses on four key areas: improving access to equipment, improving access to connectivity, combating fear of using equipment and enhancing skills in using the equipment.

The Staying Connected project was recently commended at the 2022 Digital Leaders impact awards and has an impressive list of successes to date. Cindy highlighted the project had helped over 60 individuals get online and access health care information remotely as well as supporting 18 Afghan refugees to access health services online. Support from Tesco Mobile and Vodafone has enabled the project to reach nearly 300 additional individuals with the gifting of digital devices. In addition, the project has 50 active volunteers, who carry out home visits and help distribute digital devices and provide digital support to individuals across the county.

Tim Brazier concluded the presentations, outlining the work of Thrive by Design, which is a design and research consultancy hosted by Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust. Tim began by giving an overview of Thrive by Design’s work stating their projects are defined by two key questions: 1. How can digital innovation help to tackle health inequalities? 2. How can we make sure the digital transformation of health and care doesn’t compound existing inequalities?

Tim went to discuss what they have learnt about digital inclusion and exclusion in the health care sector through their various projects. Tim explained that the digital exclusion is often simplified, however, their research has shown it much more complex which includes many different factors which are dynamic and inter-related around life context, the system in which they access digital support and skills and individual confidence with digital. Tim’s detailed presentation covered numerous different case studies, highlighting work in Norfolk, Airedale, a person centered digital inclusion model and regional digital exclusion mapping.

Tim concluded his presentation by explaining inclusive digital transformation, a project that has been nominated for an iNetwork innovation award. Tim stated that digital exclusion exists in health and care because staff and systems actively exclude people from new digital services. Digital transformation is moving very quickly and leaving those behind who lack the digital skills and confidence to access the services and has created an inefficient two-tiered health system. Tim explained a service that can take 6 hours virtually can take 12 months for those who are digitally excluded. Tim highlighted what inclusive digital transformation looks like, noting the importance of joined-up, co-designed approach ensuring services are free and accessible with support offered when required. Thrive by Design has been looking into what steps would need to be taken to ensure inclusivity is at the heart of the health and care sector as Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) transition to Integrated Care Systems (ICS). Tim finished by saying national and regional actors need to do more to drive the digital inclusion agenda as there currently too much responsibility is on the local community to integrate digital inclusion.

The session was well attended with multiple questions for speakers coming from the audience asking about specific areas of digital inclusion that could be integrated and replicated by fellow councils and other organisations. The Go ON Digital Inclusion Partnership takes place once a quarter, the next session will be on 19th July registration via Eventbrite is now open.