Digital inclusion project brings healthcare technology to the homeless

24 Jan 2019

Homeless and insecurely housed people in Hastings now have access to medical treatment and support thanks to an innovative digital health care outreach project.

So far, the project has helped 122 homeless people in Hastings by using technology to improve how outreach workers respond to the healthcare needs of their clients. The team communicates with St John’s ambulance to get clinical opinions on injuries and symptoms.

The homeless people who were supported through the project became more motivated and confident in managing their health conditions, symptoms and behaviours. By gaining access to online health and medicines information on the NHS website, Seaview service users were better at following medication for long-term conditions and managing their side effects.

The project, which is a partnership between NHS Digital, NHS England, Good Things Foundation and The Seaview Project, has been using digital technology to record and triage health concerns of rough sleepers. Those who visit the wellbeing centre and other public spaces are also being encouraged to use the internet to access health information.

Computers have been set up in partner sites to increase the number of places people experiencing homelessness can access health-information websites, such as the NHS website and Patient Online Services. Digital Health champions are also on hand at the local library and well-being centre to help people access the digital health information devices.

Homeless people have a considerably lower life expectancy and a 10 times greater standardised mortality rate than the general population. This is in part due to rough sleepers being less likely to seek treatment for a medical problem where the general public would, which can result in premature death.

They also report low levels of digital confidence compared to the general population. Those who sleep rough often don’t own a smartphone or tablet and if they do, they run out of data too regularly or are unable to get a data contract and experience inadequate access to or exclusion from public Wi-Fi.

Homeless people are more likely to seek help and support with getting online if it’s provided in their own environment, by people they know and trust. Seaview gained the trust of the homeless people by being there when they needed them. By improving their health literacy and empowering them to take control of their own healthcare, the users became more open and willing to trust and re-engage with their GP services.

This project is part of the NHS Digital’s Widening Digital Participation Programme, which aims to make digital health services and information accessible to everyone – particularly the most excluded people in society.

Twenty digital inclusion pathfinders are being run across the country in partnership with the charity Good Things Foundation to test new ways to help people access digital tools to improve their health.

Annie Whelan, Chief Officer at Seaview said "Being chosen as a site for a digital health pathfinder focussing on homelessness was a wonderful opportunity for Seaview. The digitisation of health and care is inevitable, and it could either result in further exclusion for our client group or greater sensitivity and understanding.

“Having the resource and backing to trial real support ideas in practice has helped us to work on achieving greater accessibility and to break down barriers. Working with Good Things Foundation as a partner has also been wonderfully empowering as they have very much been concerned about improving the experience and digital health journeys of those that are homeless or rough sleeping."


Notes to editors

  1. Good Things Foundation is a digital and social inclusion charity with the aim of creating a world where everyone can benefit from digital technology. The organisation helps people to overcome social challenges, building a digitally included society and supporting people to grow their essential skills. Good Things Foundation supports the 5,000-strong Online Centres Network – a network of community organisations that help people to improve their digital skills, and to overcome other barriers to inclusion.
  2. The Seaview Project is a non-profit organisation with an open access wellbeing centre offering help and inspiration for people living on society’s margins. Seaview’s range of support services help marginalised people with addiction problems, mental health issues, ex- and at-risk offenders and rough sleepers achieve personal growth and fulfilment.
  3. NHS Digital’s three-year Widening Digital Participation programme (WDP) aims to help thousands of people across the UK to boost their digital health skills, as one in 10 people in England lack the confidence and skills to fully benefit from digital, and in turn from the improvements to their health. The programme is focusing on those who are socially excluded and so are most likely to suffer from health inequalities.
  4. The pathfinders are partnerships between local organisations including Clinical Commissioning Groups, local authorities and community groups in areas of high deprivation and digital exclusion. The evidence and insights gathered through these pilot projects have been developed into practical ‘How to Guides’ that can be shared with digital teams in the NHS and across Government to ensure all digital health services and tools are inclusive and accessible to everyone – particularly the most excluded.

NHS Digital is the national information and technology partner of the health and care system. Our team of information analysis, technology and project management experts create, deliver and manage the crucial digital systems, services, products and standards upon which health and care professionals depend. During the 2017/18 financial year, NHS Digital published 275 statistical reports. Our vision is to harness the power of information and technology to make health and care better.

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