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Virgin Media O2 Business: Bridging the digital gap in UK healthcare

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A new report from Virgin Media O2 Business has revealed that by 2030, 4.5 million people – 8% of the population – will remain digitally excluded from healthcare. To tackle the issue, it is launching its Care-ready Connectivity suite of solutions that will tackle this digital divide across the UK’s healthcare system.

The Virgin Media O2 Business report, ‘Bridging the digital gap in UK healthcare’, delves into the UK’s current digital health challenges and opportunities, exploring how a digital first culture can be cultivated.

Revealing that 49% of NHS staff cited funding as the biggest hurdle to digital equality and 86% of respondents calling for further investment in digital skills for the NHS workforce, Virgin Media O2 business has recognised an urgent need to take proactive steps toward inclusive digital healthcare.

The report shows that 21% of the UK population do not have the basic digital skills to use the internet, preventing them from accessing the services they need, and that, due to the cost-of-living crisis, the ‘digital divide’ – the gap between people in society who have full access to digital technologies and those who don’t – is getting worse.

To tackle this issue and prepare the NHS for a digital future, the new Virgin Media O2 Business Care-ready Connectivity suite includes free mobile health checks as well as access to expert Digital Explore Workshops for all NHS Trusts.

Mobile Health checks will enable senior decision makers to review their entire mobile estate with tech experts to ensure they are getting the most out of their infrastructure, and Digital Explore Workshops aim to tackle digital inefficiency challenges.

“It was suggested by NHS leadership that it will take about 10 years to address the digital divide that exists because of the inequality that exists around the country and in society at large,” explains Martin McFadyen, Director of Public Sector, at Virgin Media O2 Business.

“The NHS is making great strides to try and improve that with the likes of the integrated care system deployment and with the goal of bringing together NHS Digital and NHS England to have a single voice and more unified message.

“We also saw significant developments after COVID, such as with the NHS app, and hopefully more deployments of technology will enable more self-services from a healthcare perspective. However, that will require capability within NHS professionals themselves in order to be able access and encourage it, as well as to help patients get online and access them.

“It is also going to require a lot of accessibility and skills that aren’t ubiquitous nationwide.”

McFadyen explains that the Care-ready Connectivity suite will be working with NHS organisations to get a better understanding of what they are doing and how they’re doing it, as well as what tools they are using to help staff and patients get online. Virgin Media O2 Business will use this information to make recommendations on better connectivity and better device enablement, as well as digital skills training to support better outcomes.

“Deploying the right technology, enabling the staff to be able to use that technology, encouraging the patient to be able to get online and do as much of it as they can themselves – the Care-ready Connectivity initiative covers that full spectrum,” adds McFadyen.

Virgin Media O2 Business has already been carrying out public engagement through the NHS Trusts and local authorities as part of its Digital Inclusion and Social Inclusion Initiative in its Connect More Digital skills programme. The programme aims to teach skills to help people with digital connectivity such as booking a doctor’s appointment.

The pilot’s so far have seen a significant reduction in GP time as a result of people being able to go online and order repeat prescriptions. McFadyen explains this has racked up to giving the equivalent of one month of GP practice time back.

“That’s not insignificant if you’re putting a month’s worth of time back into the year,” says McFadyen.

The Care-ready Connectivity suite will also be focusing on improving Wi-Fi access in hospitals, interoperability between systems, and driving collaborative procurement between the public and private sectors to achieve better patient care outcomes.

“It’s about how we make sure that the public and the private sector work together more collaboratively  and share best practice across across the country and between professionals at all levels,” says McFayden.

“We can work ahead of procurement activities to ensure that the right technology and the right solutions are what’s being bought, and that they’re not being bought in isolation, which can be detrimental to a joined up approach.”

Virgin Media O2 Business has also launched a Memorandum of Understanding with the Crown Commercial Service (CCS) in order to accelerate digital transformation by improved adoption of the right technology, whilst also taking societal impact into consideration.

“I really see our CCS MoU as a real opportunity to be a game changer for the outcomes that we’re striving to achieve,” says McFadyen.

“It will deliver the best technology, the best commercial option that’s available, whilst also enabling and empowering staff and patients alike to kind of take full advantage of the services that are available.”

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