The COVID-19 pandemic meant that access to health services changed significantly, with many services switching to remote access. There is much to celebrate about the NHS response, and we know how hard our friends and colleagues across the health and care system have been working.
Throughout, we have worked with National Voices members to better understand digital and access experiences and what could be done to improve them. We have learned that new remote ways of delivering care work for many people but that they also have made exclusion worse for many others:
- We worked with Traverse and Healthwatch on a rapid insight study The Doctor Will Zoom You Now, designed to understand the patient experience of remote consultations.
- We worked with the Patient Experience Library and Care Opinion to understand the available evidence about digital exclusion.
- The stories of digital healthcare we have heard directly from people who are at risk of exclusion paint a sometimes worrying picture of people finding it difficult to get the help they need in a way that creates both value for them and the system.
- Our work on the experience of waiting for care has shown us how abandoned some people have felt when services were disrupted and cancelled, but also that it is possible to support people while they wait.
Based on all this learning, we have developed recommendations for practice and policy.
At our flagship conference on different aspects of health inequity, we made a commitment to build on the insight and energy created and to codesign a coalition for action on health inequality, including digital exclusion.
We also decided we needed some information that explains to people themselves what they can expect when using health services.
The voluntary and community sector is well placed to innovate effectively, and puts time and effort into relationship, skill and confidence building through peer support. During Covid-19, National Voices members have been able to reach out to vulnerable communities, with different needs and find workable solutions at pace. We have pulled together an inspiring list of interventions, innovations and initiatives that showcase these activities.
We are continuing to consider the wider implications of digital on access to healthcare, including primary care and elective care recovery, with a special interest in how triage can work better for people.