Eliminating the risk of excluding some patients from accessing healthcare digitally could also bring about ‘significant’ cost savings for the NHS, members of the House of Lords have said.
In a new report (29 June) into digital exclusion, Lords warned the Government had ‘no credible strategy’ for tackling practices and systems that exclude people due to their lack of digital technologies or skills.
The Communications and Digital Committee said the scale of the problem is a ‘direct consequence of political lethargy’, with any ambition to make the UK a technology superpower undermined by high levels of digital exclusion.
It comes as the NHS continues to rapidly adopt digital practices as part of its digital transformation strategy.
The Lords flagged that those who have access to the internet typically benefit from easier access to health services and health awareness tools.
But they said: ‘Conversely, as digitised healthcare becomes more common – for example through remote consultations, diagnostics and monitoring – there is a risk that health inequalities among digitally excluded groups will deepen.’
There is potential for ‘significant cost savings’ to be achieved by shifting towards digital practices, they said, indicating the need to prevent or minimise the risk of a skills gap emerging.
They pointed to the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) which estimated NHS savings of up to £899 million by 2032 from reduced GP appointments, while the Government’s 2022 plan for digital health envisaged ‘helping over 500,000 patients manage long-term conditions at home through new technologies’.
The report said: ‘This all suggests basic skills are already important to improving health outcomes and will only become more so as the UK’s shift towards digitised healthcare continues.’