This paper discusses digital inclusion in response to the increasing digital approach to healthcare.
The Chair introduced the item and explained that a number of local organisations across NCL had been invited to speak to the Committee to provide an insight into their experiences in relation to digital inclusion.
Rabbi Hackenbroch, Woodside Park Synagogue (Barnet), noted that, initially, there had been a lot of excitement in setting up an online presence and allowing people to see each other. Some advantages of using a digital platform were that it was possible to deliver the usual programmes, prayers, and memorials, people who were usually unable to attend for a variety of reasons had additional opportunities, and it had been possible to achieve a more personal touch with virtual breakout rooms. Some challenges were that there was an excess of digital options, including for schooling and work, and this meant that many people did not want to spend additional time looking at screens. Also, some people struggled to use digital options for a number of reasons. It was noted that, in future, the synagogue would be running virtual options alongside physical one to incorporate the whole community to maintain increased connections and engagement.
James Dellow, Covent Garden Dragon Hall Trust (Camden) and SoapBox Youth Centre (Islington), explained that a key principle of youth work was to engage on platforms that young people were already using; a variety of online platforms had been used during the pandemic, including a YouTube channel, and these had been very successful. It was noted that partnership collaboration and considering new options had been incredibly valuable. Although, it was acknowledged that platforms such as Teams and Zoom were not designed for young people or for natural communication and could feel quite impersonal. It was stated that it had been challenging to work in a reactive way to the national restrictions but that it would be important to think about preparedness in the short and long term future. It was highlighted that it was important to avoid saying that virtual provision was not as good as physical provision as it reduced the value of virtual which, for some people, was a better option. It was added that providing virtual hardware and internet data had helped in reducing the digital divide but that it was also crucial to provide things such as digital skills and online safety awareness.
Nick Chanda, SACRE and Multi Faith Forum member and Revival Christian Church (Enfield), explained that he had a predominantly Black congregation and the church building had not been open since March 2020. It was explained that there had been a number of advantages in providing digital options as people still felt part of the community as they could get services at home, there was no need to travel, and people could join from all over the world. It was noted that there had been some challenges; this included a lack of digital devices or accounts to access digital platforms and the need to adapt to new digital platforms where it was difficult to connect effectively and where it was not always known who was present. It was added that it was easy for misinformation to circulate on digital platforms; this was particularly true in relation to the Covid-19 vaccination for Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic groups and it was explained that the Church group was in a good position to provide correct information to the community.
Raj Gupta, Community Hub (Haringey), explained that providing digital options had been an amazing new experience for some charities and that, with some effort, it was possible to become digitally inclusive. It was noted that, historically, many people from Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic communities had struggled to access online services, often due to a lack of IT skills or language issues. It was commented that remote GP consultations during the Covid-19 pandemic had been positive but that this had often required additional support from patients’ families. It was suggested that, in the future, paid IT Community Champions may be needed to provide support to the community; this could be similar to social prescribing and it would be beneficial if these people came from the community and spoke additional languages.
Martin Finegan, The People’s Christian Fellowship (Haringey), explained that the initial priorities had focused on maintaining contact with the congregation, delivering services, and ensuring that it was possible for people to give and support the foodbank. It was noted that a contact list and a dedicated email had been established to ensure that there was a way for the Church to communicate with the congregation and vice versa. It was explained that WhatsApp messaging had been used to share information and prayers, Kahoot learning games had been used for family games, and a ClassDojo classroom community had been used for youth provision. In terms of challenges, it was noted that there had been some technology failures, some people did not have technology or the required technology for certain platforms, and it had been harder for some older people and people with learning difficulties to access online provision. It was added that the Church considered that digital options were a beneficial supplement but that physical provision would be its focus in the future.
Mike Wilson, Public Voice (Haringey), informed the Committee that there had been a digital support project in Haringey, funded by three hospital trusts and the NCL CCG, with the objective of helping patients access appointments remotely. This had included the provision of devices and digital support which was delivered through 50 volunteers, many of whom worked in IT and spoke community languages. It was noted that some home visits had been undertaken with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) where required to provide support and that there were be devices in libraries and community hubs. It was added that this was a six month programme but it was hoped that, following the trial, it would be rolled out across NCL.
Anthony Doudle, SACRE officer and Head of School Improvement (Islington), noted that all schools had been surveyed in the first national lockdown in March 2020 and this had provided a picture of the digital landscape. It was established that, particularly for primary aged children, there was limited access to digital devices. It was explained that Islington had provided 3,000 new devices to ensure good access and had prioritised older children, especially those who were looked after or had a social worker. In June 2020, when schools returned, the digital survey for schools was updated and it was established that all secondary students had a device and work was underway to ensure that each family with primary school children had at least one device. It was highlighted that contacting schools, particularly mother tongue supplementary schools, had established strong communications hubs and it was notable that attendance in September 2020 was better than attendance before the pandemic. It was noted that a significant challenge had been to provide effective education in early years as this focused on creativity, language, and physical development which was difficult to deliver virtually.
The Chair thanked all of the speakers for sharing their experiences which had raised a number of aspects on digital inclusion from different communities and age groups. It was noted that these contributions would inform the Committee’s consideration of digital inclusion.
To defer consideration of the report until the next meeting.