Bridging the digital divide

By Dr Wirin Bhatiani

One impact of Covid-19 is that we are doing more online: whether working from home, keeping in touch with friends and family by Zoom and FaceTime, or ‘clicking and collecting’ our supermarket shopping.

We are also accessing more health and community services digitally, such as our GP.

There is a misconception that GP practices have been closed, when they have remained open throughout the pandemic – it’s just that they are operating differently.

While we can no longer have packed waiting rooms, or patients walking in without an appointment, people can still speak to a doctor.

Many patients will be offered a consultation by phone or online, but face-to-face appointments are still taking place when needed and Covid-safe measures are in place at the surgery.

Many patients say this means they get a quicker response and don’t have to take time out to visit the surgery.

But “digital exclusion” is a real concern of mine. People must not miss out on health care because they don’t have a smartphone, internet access and decent Wi-Fi, or are not digitally confident.

Older people are already less likely to contact their GP, putting their symptoms down to “old age”. I don’t want this to be exacerbated by concerns about using IT.

That’s why I’m delighted that the Bolton’s Fund has announced grants of up to £5,000 to support projects which improve people’s confidence and skills in using digital technology, and help community and voluntary groups provide better online services.

I am proud that Bolton CCG supports this fund and I urge community and voluntary sector groups to find our more.

I also want to know if we are getting the balance right between online and in-person services, and we will be asking for people’s views on the new ways of working.

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