Digital inclusion in primary care

The adoption of digital technology across health services has significantly increased in recent years. Around 10 million more people in the UK used NHS websites or digital applications in 2021 compared with 2020, and NHS App registrations increased from 2 million people in 2021 to 30 million in 2023. However, the benefits are not yet accessible for everyone. Around 30% of people who are offline feel that the NHS is one of the most difficult organisations to interact with.

100% Digital Leeds is working across healthcare and community settings to support digital inclusion for improved health outcomes. This involves increasing digital inclusion awareness among staff, building capacity to support digital inclusion in communities, and supporting the implementation of digital inclusion solutions to common challenges that patients face when engaging with health services.

The need for supporting digital inclusion in primary care

Improving General Practice (GP) access is one of the NHS’s top priorities. Last year NHS England launched a delivery plan for recovering access to primary care to improve GP access to patients across the UK, with Integrated Care Boards delivering their own improvement plans for communities. The plan’s main objective is to tackle some of the pressures facing GPs and other services as they work to get back to normal after the pandemic.

The aims of the plan are:

  • To tackle the 8am rush for appointments and reduce the number of people struggling to contact their GP practice.
  • To restore patient satisfaction and for patients to know on the day they contact their practice how their request will be managed.
  • To support a move to more digital options and encouraging use of the NHS App.

100% Digital Leeds is working in partnership with the Primary Care Transformation Team in Leeds to support the implementation of the delivery plan by exploring ways that embedding digital inclusion into existing strategies and activity can support both staff and patients to engage with digital tools and services.

This involves:

  • Increasing opportunities for patients to have a better understanding of the tools available and gain support in using these tools.
  • Offering training and support to staff to better enable them to have positive digital inclusion conversations with patients to raise awareness of digital tools and services and help people better understand the potential benefits of using them.
  • Supporting staff to signpost people to digital support in trusted spaces in the community. 

100% Digital Leeds has worked with the Primary Care Transformation Team to develop a patient digital needs assessment questionnaire. This enables admin teams to better understand the digital inclusion barriers patients may face, meaning they can signpost to the right support based on individual needs. 

Supporting the implementation of Patchs

In 2023 Primary Care teams across Leeds began the rollout of Patchs, a new tool to support patients in managing their appointments and communicating with practices. 100% Digital Leeds partnered with Lingwell Croft Surgery and Middleton and Hunslet Primary Care Network to explore ways that digital inclusion could support with the implementation of the new digital tool for patients and staff.

Staff expressed that they felt confident in using Patchs but had low confidence in offering the tool to patients who may face barriers to digital inclusion. 100% Digital Leeds developed tailored digital inclusion awareness training for staff to increase their confidence in having positive digital inclusion conversations with patients, supporting patients in using Patchs, and improving signposting to appropriate digital inclusion support in the community. Staff are encouraged to signpost patients to the city’s Digital Health Hubs for support with digital skills and to access connectivity and devices. 

“The training has been super useful. I feel more excited about offering this to patients now and can see the real benefits. It’s good knowing where in the community is offering support such as free data and devices, I can now share this with my patients.”

Receptionist, Lingwell Croft Surgery.

The training improved staff skills and confidence leading to increased opportunities for patients to engage with practices digitally and empowering patients to have greater access in managing their own health and wellbeing, resulting in fewer unnecessary GP appointments. 

“We’ve found that staff feel a lot more confident having conversations with patients about digital. More of our patients have been supported to use Patchs and staff have signposted patients to Middleton Elderly Aid where they have been helping lots of our patients with the sign-up process in their digital sessions. We have seen a rise in patients using Patchs and I will look at sharing this work wider across the other practices in the PCN.” 

Julie Howard, Lingwell Croft Surgery.

Next steps

As a result of the success in embedding digital inclusion into the rollout of Patchs at Lingwell Croft, 100% Digital Leeds is having further discussions with the Primary Care Development Team to explore replicating this approach with other practices adopting Patchs.

100% Digital Leeds plans to support the adoption of this model across the additional three practices that are part of Middleton and Hunslet Primary Care Network. Beeston Primary Care Network will be rolling out Patchs from April 2024 and 100% Digital Leeds will play a similar role in supporting the embedding of digital inclusion into the implementation plan. This training and the embedding of digital inclusion will support future rollout plans for digital tools such as other platforms such as Airmid and Accurx, as well as condition specific self-management tools.