Cheshire and Merseyside kit recycling project delivers life changing outcomes

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We’re delighted to share that a kit recycling project that was undertaken by our Digital Programme’s digital inclusion team, has helped to deliver life changing outcomes for some of the most digitally excluded groups within Cheshire and Merseyside. Through supporting them to get online and empowering them to access a range of digital health services that they wouldn’t have been able to benefit from beforehand, such as those providing diabetes and mental health support, and guidance around how to live a healthier lifestyle, such as how to quit smoking.

The project achieved this, by using £27,000 in funding from the Digital First Primary Care Programme, which is currently supporting over 30 projects, across Primary Care settings such as General Practice, Pharmacy, Oximetry and Social Care services, and working closely with the nine local authority areas that make up Cheshire and Merseyside. Funding that was used to purchase and re-purpose pre-loved computer monitors, processors, keyboards, and mice, from the Furniture Resource Centre (FRC) Group, with the kit being arranged into ‘digital packs’ and Windows 10 software being installed onto the devices, before they were distributed for free to the digitally excluded groups who needed them most to access digital health services. Such as older aged people, financially disadvantaged people, and people with disabilities. All of whom, were already connected to the internet, but due to factors such as access, confidence, motivation, and skills were unable to get online. As for example, they didn’t have physical or financial access to digital devices, lacked the skills and confidence they needed to get online, or didn’t fully understand how they could benefit from being online. Therefore, instruction booklets were also included in each of the digital packs to help individuals to set up and use the computers, along with a list of a range of different health-based sites and initiatives they’d be able to access using the devices.

Over a period of six months, more than 70 people from across Cheshire and Merseyside, have benefitted from the project. With one recipient, who was given a digital pack to support her in managing her diabetes and to improve her overall wellbeing, sharing the following feedback with us, via a project survey: “During the COVID-19 lockdowns, I’ve often felt really isolated, down and lacked motivation to do anything that I’d normally do, but through having access to a computer I’m now feeling a lot better. It’s made my life easier and has given me more independence and freedom than I had before, because I’m now able to access online diabetes health and wellbeing programmes, other online courses such as leadership training where I can connect with people, and I can even do my shopping online! For me, being able to get online is like being able to access a library from home, where I’m able to search for opportunities that can help me not only to better manage my health conditions, but also to improve my life in general”.

Speaking about the success of the kit recycling project to date, Project Manager Jennifer Mason, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated inequalities within our society, including the digital divide. At a time when having full access to computers and the internet couldn’t be more important, in allowing people to use online services, attend medical appointments, and virtual classes, as well as stay in touch with friends and family. That said, I’m extremely proud that through this project, we’ve not only changed the lives of digitally excluded individuals across Cheshire and Merseyside, who’ve benefitted from being able to access digital health services, but that we’ve also managed to narrow the digital divide. As in this increasingly digital world, access to digital equipment, data and skills shouldn’t be seen as a luxury, because as this project highlights, it’s a basic necessity that can make a significant difference to individuals’ lives, particularly in terms of health, employment, and education outcomes. I hope moving forward that we can build on this work locally, through collaborating with digital inclusion leads across our footprint and working with the FRC Group. Whilst additionally, I hope our approach can be replicated more widely to support other integrated care systems across the UK, in advocating for digitally excluded groups in their areas and tackling the digital divide.”

Amanda Parkin, Digital First Primary Care Programme Manager added: “At a time when many services moved online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this project provided digitally excluded individuals across Cheshire and Merseyside with the digital equipment, data, and skills they needed, to be able to get online and access online resources to help them better manage their health and wellbeing. Whilst they were also able to apply for financial aid they were entitled to, enrol on courses to help them learn and develop their skills, connect with people so they felt less isolated, and even order their shopping online during lockdowns. Outcomes which have been life changing for these individuals, and which are a real testament to what can be accomplished with a relatively small budget, through collaboration, partnership working, and pooling resources across multi-agency services and systems, to support those most in need. Digitally excluded people are some of the heaviest users of health and social care services, so supporting these individuals to get online and use digital health resources is crucial. That said, moving forward we’ll be building on this work in Cheshire and Merseyside, by introducing more digital inclusion initiatives that will help to empower those who are digitally excluded, to ensure they’re not forgotten about or left behind in this increasingly digital world”.

Commenting on the support they were able to provide to this project, Claire Donovan, Head of Research, Policy and Campaigns at the FRC Group, which is a registered charity with a mission to End Furniture Poverty, said: “Given that millions of people in the UK don’t have the digital equipment, data and skills they need to thrive in today’s world, which can lead to poorer health outcomes and a lower life expectancy, increased loneliness and social isolation, as well as less access to jobs and education, we’re delighted to have been able to support this kit recycling project. It’s already making a real difference to the lives of those who are digitally excluded in Cheshire and Merseyside, and we’re excited at the prospect of continuing to work with the Cheshire and Merseyside Health and Care Partnership in the future, to build on the life changing outcomes this project has already delivered locally, to date”.

Moving forward, in 2022 the Digital Programme’s digital inclusion team will be looking to distribute the remaining 74 digital packs that have not yet been allocated, helping to support more digitally excluded individuals across our region. Additionally, they’ll also be developing a blueprint (which is a knowledge asset), to capture their learning from the project, which can then be utilised by other healthcare systems and providers, wishing to replicate their approach and tailor it to their own local needs and requirements, to help support digitally excluded individuals within their own geographical areas. The team will also be looking to better understand more about what barriers digitally excluded individuals face locally, in being able to access digital equipment, data, and skills. To better enable us in Cheshire and Merseyside to support these individuals in accessing digital health services, in order to do things such as download their NHS COVID pass, order repeat prescriptions, and access guidance, to support them in better managing any health conditions they may have.

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