How digital literacy initiatives are helping to reduce health inequalities in NW London

During the pandemic, many essential healthcare services were forced to move online. Whilst this preserved patients’ safety against Covid-19, the virtual transition meant that those who lacked the digital literacy skills to access online services, weren’t able to receive the care they needed. With this in mind, NHS Charities Together via the local charity CW+ funded three pilots to help address these inequalities. DigitALL, Powering Recovery and Hiyos Live Channel all help improve access to digital services for people who lack digital literacy skills through provision of skills training, data and devices. The aim was, through access to these digital products, for participants to improve their wellbeing and quality of life, whether that is due to being more connected to friends and family and/or by an improved ability to access health services, as a result of the pilots building their digital skills and confidence.

The three pilots were led by different types of organisations: DigitALL was a charity consortium in the Tri-borough area (the City of Westminster, the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea), led by older adult charity Open Age; Powering Recovery was led by the West London Trust; and Hiyos Live Channel was led by Hiyos, a GP practice in Hounslow.

Imperial College Health Partners (ICHP) were commissioned to evaluate the effectiveness of the pilots using a three-phase approach: an initial discovery phase to support the teams to articulate the expected impacts from each pilot; a data collection and analysis phase alongside pilot delivery; and finally a reporting phase where evaluation reports for the individual pilots and the programme as a whole were written up and shared.

Improving access to digital services

Over the course of two years, the pilots reached thousands of people in North West (NW) London and beyond.

By June 2023, DigitALL had supported around 550 individuals to improve their digital skills and were well on track to meet their target of 700 individuals supported; Powering Recovery had supported 105 people by end of June; and Hiyos Live Channel had delivered workshops with over 1,500 attendees in total. Overall, the pilots delivered services to more than 2,000 people.

The participants involved were diverse, and over-representative of ethnic minorities (in the case of DigitALL and Powering Recovery) and from some of the most deprived postcodes in the country (in the case of Hiyos). By partnering with local organisations who engage with these populations, the DigitALL team engaged specific cohorts in need of digital inclusion support such as older adults, adults with learning disabilities, and older adults with English as a second language.

The evaluation demonstrated the impact of the projects: the DigitALL pilot saw the greatest improvement in both confidence and frequency of using the internet, with the proportion of participants using the internet weekly or daily increasing from 20% at the start of support to 100% at the end of support. Most DigitALL participants (over 85%) reported achieving their personal goals by the end of the project. Powering Recovery also registered improvements in frequency of internet use, increasing from 65% of participants already using the internet at the start of support, to 100% at the end. Participants also increased their confidence in using health services online—more than 90% of participants rated the programme as “very good” and agreed that they had learned useful skills.

One participant of the programme, Margaret Porta, earned the Patron’s Award in the Festival of Learning, which celebrates lifelong learning in England. Through the Open Age DigitALL project, Margaret learned new IT skills, which helped her put together a digital campaign to showcase her art show.

The DigitALL project was also one of 10 finalists for the Digital Skills or Talent Initiative of the Year Category in the Digital Leaders 100 awards show.

The evaluations were shared with digital inclusion and third sector stakeholders in NW London to support decisions on pilot continuation and to derive learnings for the evaluation of other digital inclusion pilots in the region. The DigitALL pilot has now secured funding for another year.

You can read more about the three pilots and the evaluation approach here:

For more information on this evaluation project please reach out to Joana Flores

“I have looked forward to our sessions every week and I am grateful to have someone who is willing to come out to me to help me as without it I would feel quite left behind. Thank you so much to the tutor.” – DigitALL participant