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As part of Get Online Week – the UK’s largest digital inclusion campaign – charity Good Things Foundation has launched a new report outlining the work of two different projects that used digital tools to help older people manage their health and care needs.

Good Things Foundation worked with NHS Pathfinders in Thanet and Sunderland (as part of the NHS’ Widening Digital Participation programme) to explore how digital resources can support older people.

The two projects employed different approaches to supporting older people. In Sunderland, Age UK provided free digital skills classes to older people in a range of deprived locations across the borough, developing a partnership with the local council to identify skills needs amongst older, vulnerable people.

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In Thanet, Orbit Housing designed a community-based digital skills scheme to build the skills of disabled older people living in supported accommodation. They built an effective peer support network which reached almost 50 percent of residents.

One person who benefited from digital skills support is Roy, in Thanet, who commented: “I’m learning to do beneficial things for myself. I’ve found two health apps – one is a patient access app which I’ve joined, which means I can manage my medication which I need every month, and manage my appointments online.

“I have an app that tells me how many people are in the waiting room of each hospital in the area. I used it on Boxing Day, as I needed to go to A&E. There was one hospital with 34 people waiting and another hospital with only 1. So I went there and went straight through to see the doctor.”

Good Things Foundation is also publishing a toolkit of resources to help organisations to support older patients to benefit from digital.

Nicola Gill, Widening Digital Participation Programme Director at NHS Digital, said: “Digital health technology can really help to reduce isolation and connect older people to the people, information and services they need to improve their mental and physical health. We have been learning lots about the barriers and challenges for older people with getting online and the things we can do to support them.

“We are delighted to be sharing what we have learned so that NHS, social care and third sector organisations across the country can benefit from this work and are able to help older people in their area improve their quality of life through the choice, convenience and opportunity that technology offers.”

As well as trialling the two projects alongside the NHS, Good Things Foundation says that giving older people with care and support needs the skills to go online is important. For instance, the NHS App can support older people to manage repeat prescriptions, book and cancel appointments, and view their medical record.

As there is currently no national provision focused on older people’s digital inclusion to ensure they can benefit from online health and care services, the charity has made a series of recommendations to support the digital upskilling of older patients.

It suggests that health and care organisations incorporate digital inclusion in any needs assessment for older people they are working with to provide a holistic offer, ensuring they can refer on to relevant support in the community.

The charity also says that councils and housing associations should invest in digital inclusion services for older people, by investing in Wifi, developing better, more user focused services, and training up frontline staff.

Helen Milner, Chief Executive of Good Things Foundation, said: “We’re delighted to be publishing these findings today, and hope the recommendations we have developed mean organisations working across the health and care sectors, and who are supporting older people, can do more with digital.

“Digital has the potential to have a huge impact on the lives of older people – helping them to be less isolated, to better manage their health, and to do more of the things they love.

“Through our Pathfinder projects, we’ve seen first hand the huge impact digital can have, and we need to ensure everyone is supported to develop both the skills and motivation to make the most of it.”

NHS Digital’s Widening Digital Participation programme (WDP) aims to help thousands of people across the UK to boost their digital health skills, as one in 10 people in England lack the confidence and skills to fully benefit from digital, and in turn from the improvements to their health. The programme is focusing on those who are socially excluded and so are most likely to suffer from health inequalities.

The pathfinders are partnerships between local organisations including Clinical Commissioning Groups, local authorities and community groups in areas of high deprivation and digital exclusion. The evidence and insights gathered through these pilot projects have been developed into practical ‘How to Guides’ that can be shared with digital teams in the NHS and across Government to ensure all digital health services and tools are inclusive and accessible to everyone – particularly the most excluded.

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