More than 2,000 people in north-west London benefit from digital literacy initiatives to address health inequalities

Today the North-West London Digital Inclusion programme, led by CW+, the charity of Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, published the evaluation of the £1.1m programme, which has successfully provided digital inclusion services to more than 2,000 vulnerable people in north-west London.

As part of the NHS Charities Together Stage 2 (community partnerships) COVID Recovery Programme, CW+ funded three pilots in the local area over the course of two years to improve digital inclusion for vulnerable people. The pilots were designed to provide digital access to health, care and community resources for those lacking digital literacy skills, providing vital training, data and devices, to improve their wellbeing and quality of life.

Two of the digital inclusion pilots CW+ funded provided devices, data and skills training. DigitALL, 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 Open Age, targeted older adults and adults with learning disabilities. Powering Recovery, led by the West London NHS Trust, worked with patients to provide greater choice between digital and face-to-face health services. The third pilot, Hiyos Live Channel, led by Hiyos GP practice in Hounslow, delivered online content on topics relevant to addressing health inequalities, starting with work experience sessions on NHS careers. The participants involved in all the pilots were diverse, and over-representative of people from the global majority (in the case of DigitALL and Powering Recovery) and from some of the most deprived postcodes in the country (in the case of Hiyos).

Imperial College Health Partners (ICHP)* was commissioned to evaluate the effectiveness of the pilots. 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 percentage of participants using the internet weekly or daily increasing from 20% at the start of support to 100% by the end. 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.

Highlights from the evaluation include:

– By June 2023, DigitALL had supported around 550 individuals, achieving the greatest improvement in both confidence and frequency of internet use, 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.
– Powering Recovery had supported 105 people by the end of June 2023 and also registered improvements in frequency of internet use, albeit from a higher baseline (65% to 100%). Participants also became more confident in using online health services.
– Hiyos Live Channel delivered impactful workshops to over 1,500 attendees, further expanding the reach and effectiveness of the initiative.
– At the start of the DigitALL and Powering Recovery programmes, the levels of wellbeing reported by participants were measured at 32% for DigitALL and 37% for Powering Recovery (this was lower than general wellbeing levels measured in their home boroughs at a similar time). At the end of the support period of both pilots, wellbeing levels had improved, with 65% (DigitALL) and 78% (Powering Recovery) of participants reporting high or very high satisfaction levels.

Chris Chaney, the Chief Executive of CW+, said: ‘During the Covid-19 pandemic many essential services moved online, which highlighted an already significant gap in digital literacy among some of the most vulnerable people in north-west London. This programme, supported by NHS Charities Together, sought to address that and we are delighted to have made such a positive impact on so many people.

‘We are hugely grateful to our partners for their hard work in building participants’ digital skills and confidence over the past two years. The results of the evaluation show the important role digital literacy training plays in addressing health inequalities, and our hope is that the findings from this project will be picked up and adopted in other areas.’

Tiblez, a DigitALL participant, said: ‘Although I tried to attend Adult Community Learning courses in the past, I found it difficult because I have a visual impairment and I only had a basic device.

‘I’m from Eritrea so my priority was learning about WhatsApp, email and video calls so I could keep in contact with family and friends. The thought of being able to see their faces for the first time in years was very exciting.

‘This project changed my life. I feel less lonely. I can talk to my family and order things online – and when I can’t do it, I know where to get help. All I can say is thank you to those who made it happen.’

The DigitALL project was one of 10 finalists for the Digital Skills or Talent Initiative of the Year Category in the Digital Leaders 100 awards show, and the pilot has now secured funding for another year.

The Powering Recovery project was the runner-up for the Digital Inclusion Award at this year’s ISPA Awards. The project has also been accepted as a poster presentation at the International Integrated Care Conference.

The ICHP evaluation has been shared with digital inclusion and third sector stakeholders in north-west London to support decision making and to derive learnings for the evaluation of other digital inclusion projects in the region.

For more information on the work of CW+, visit www.cwplus.org.uk

About Lisa Baker, Editor, Wellbeing News 4120 Articles
Editor Lisa Baker is passionate about the benefits of a holistic approach to healing. Lisa is a qualified Vibrational Therapist and has qualifications in Auricular Therapy, Massage, Kinesiology, Crystal Healing, Seichem and is a Reiki Master.