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Charities step in to tackle digital divide, amid concerns over health inequalities

BMJ 2024; 384 doi: (Published 19 January 2024) Cite this as: BMJ 2024;384:q158
  1. Elisabeth Mahase
  1. The BMJ

The covid pandemic saw many everyday services move online, but the NHS’s push for “digital transformation” may mean digitally excluded and vulnerable people are left behind. Elisabeth Mahase examines what work is being done to tackle this issue

Across the UK many services have become “digital first” since the covid-19 pandemic began, and it has become more difficult to speak to someone over the phone or in person if a issue arises. This can frustrate many people, but for those who are digitally excluded it can make accessing even basic services impossible. When it comes to healthcare it can risk worsening existing inequalities, an issue NHS England is keenly aware of.1

Bola Akinwale, the NHS’s deputy director for the National Healthcare Inequalities Improvement Programme, raised this concern at the Royal Society of Medicine’s Tackling Inequalities conference in London on 16 January.

“Digital innovations can be a lifeline for many groups. They can enable remote care. They can empower people, but only if we do it in the right ways,” Akinwale said.

In September NHS England published its “framework for NHS action on digital inclusion,” which warned that digital exclusion can “compound health inequalities by exacerbating challenges with access to healthcare.”2 It said that around 7% of households do not have home internet access and around one million people had …

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