Summary of report content
Healthwatch Bexley decided to undertake further research into digital inclusion after a survey on access to health and social care via the pandemic indicated that virtual appointments were difficult for some people. They engaged with over 185 residents via a survey, focus groups and engaging with charity and community group leaders.
Most of those who responded to Healthwatch Bexley’s online survey had some degree of knowledge and understanding of using digital technology. The majority had access to the internet, an email address and home Wi-Fi. However, for some, this was only used sometimes in a limited way to talk to friends and family. Community groups and charities reported that certain groups such as the elderly, young people and some ethnic minorities were more likely to be digitally excluded. This was due to not being able to afford Wi-Fi or the equipment needed, having English as an additional language, or not having the appropriate, knowledge, ability, training or confidence to get online.
Twelve percent of survey respondents didn’t feel confident in using the internet. Nearly two thirds said they would be happy to use the internet more if they had additional training.
. Reasons for not using the internet included not feeling confident or trusting it, feeling too old to learn, not being able to for health reasons such as having Parkinson’s Disease or Dementia, or having a fear of being scammed. Isolation and loneliness have increased for many people during the pandemic, not just the elderly but young people who cannot meet with friends and family.
Virtual platforms to contact friends and family were popular amongst those with digital access, with more than three quarters using face to face platforms such as Zoom, Skype or Facetime regularly. Over four in five said that due to the government lockdown restrictions, they were using these virtual platforms more than before as a way of seeing loved ones.
During the pandemic, GP Practices have been operating a total triage system to keep both staff and patients safe from Covid-19. GP Practices have remained open, but Bexley residents have been encouraged when possible, to book appointments online using an online triage tool, even when ringing for an appointment. Just under a third were unable to complete the form. The reasons given were that they didn’t understand the form and that it asked too many questions that did not seem relevant or appropriate to their concern.
Training for those who have internet access, but limited knowledge and skills may help to build confidence and trust, encouraging people to use online triage services. Primary Care needs to ensure that online triage systems are easy to understand.
For those without digital access, the cost of buying equipment was a factor. Healthwatch Bexley heard that some charities run equipment loan schemes or provide a digital suite for their members so they can use the digital services they offer without the cost of buying equipment. Some residents who used libraries to access online services found that they had become digitally excluded whilst libraries closed during the pandemic.
The report has five recommendations covering funding for a digital skills training programme and how virtual appointments should be provided.