Richard retired four years ago, having worked for most of his life. He says: “I’ve done a number of jobs, from apprentice electrician, labouring and unskilled work to being in the police force. When I retired I couldn’t manage on the pension, so I carried on full-time for just over two years.”
Unfortunately, Richard suffers from several health conditions which meant that in the end he had to retire for good. He says: “In October 2014 my health took a serious turn for the worst and things just continued downhill after that.
“I’ve got terrible joint problems - I can be alright then go to bed one night and wake up the next morning and can’t move my leg. I physically can’t move my knee or my ankle because it swells up and is so painful.”
The problem with Richard’s joints is just one of many. He says: “I had badly infected cellulitis in my right leg - I spent a month in hospital with that. I have atrial fibrillation (a heart condition that causes an irregular and often abnormally fast heart rate). I’ve been in hospital to have treatment for that but it’s failed, so I don’t know what’s going to happen. I have high blood pressure and also sleep apnoea (a condition where the walls of the throat relax and narrow during sleep, interrupting normal breathing).”
Richard’s eldest daughter lives just a couple of hours away in Stoke-On-Trent and she suffers badly from endometriosis (a condition where tissue that behaves like the lining of the womb is found outside the womb. It affects around 2 million women in the UK alone). She’s often in a lot of pain and was put in touch with a local organisation called Disability Solutions. During a phone conversation one evening she suggested that Richard also get in touch with them.
Richard says: “I rang the team in Stoke and they told me that they weren’t a national thing but they told me that they could find out if there was anything similar nearby. They rang me back with Disability First’s number.
“I went along to Disability First initially because I needed help completing a form. I called them and they said to bring it along. That was when I met Carol Reid, the tutor there. She helped me fill it in before telling me a bit about what they do. She said if I felt like volunteering there to give her a call. A few weeks later, my leg got a bit better so I did!”
Since then Richard’s done a bit of fundraising for them and some canvassing for raffle prizes, but he’s also been able to learn about computers and develop his digital skills.
He says: “I hadn’t had much experience with computers before - only what I’d done at home. I’d not gone into the same in-depth things that they do at Disability First. For instance, I didn’t know how to get into the NHS website and get information out of that or how to book appointments.
“There’s loads on there! When I had the infected cellulitis in my leg I had a bit of a situation where I went to A&E and was sent away to make an appointment with my GP. By the time I saw my GP two days later my leg was purple and the infection had caused it to grow to about three times the size that it should be. My GP sent me straight to the hospital and they said that if I hadn’t gone in when I did I could have lost my leg from the knee down. I was really upset by that.
“Had I known then what I know now about access to all the websites, I could have researched what was happening with my leg and avoided all the grief and aggravation.”
Richard used the health courses on Learn My Way to develop his digital health skills. He says: “The health courses on there are very good - very useful, and very easy to pick up. There’s no jargon with it and it’s very easy to get into your head.”
Richard has also been able to find out additional information about his conditions. He says: “With regards to the infected cellulitis I found out that it could have been caused by a drug that I’m taking, as what I’ve read says that it’s likely to cause this as a side effect. If I hadn’t taken the drug I might not suffer from it. That’s been very helpful to know.
“I haven’t needed to research my atrial fibrillation yet, however that doesn’t mean to say I won’t have to. Because my treatment hasn’t worked I might have to go on and find out what the alternatives are. I think I’ll be doing that in the very near future.”
“I really had no idea that all this stuff was out there before I went to Disability First. I hadn’t used any of it before. I’ve even been able to book appointments at my local doctors.”
So does Richard think his new digital health skills will continue to help him? “Definitely!” he says. “I think that this stuff is a very big help for disabled people. I can still get around; I can still drive, but there are a lot of people that can’t and I think that if they could find out about all this information at their fingertips and could use it, it’d make things much better for them.
“Learn My Way is brilliant, and if it could be expanded even more it’d be even better! I saw a lady at Disability First who had some learning difficulties and she was getting on famously with it. She was really enthusiastic and excited about it and I thought that was absolutely brilliant - it was really nice to see. I’d absolutely recommend learning digital health skills and the Learn My Way courses to anyone, without a doubt.”
To find out more about Good Things Foundation’s work on the NHS Widening Digital Participation Programme please visit: http://nhs.tinderfoundation.org.