So, yesterday was the Digital Flu clinic at Seascale Health Centre, in West Cumbria. 392 people came through the centre during the day to get their annual flu jabs. 40 of these signed up to access their health records online for the first time, and 20 or so of them came to see me to get advice on their digital lives.
And there is the rub, and it’s why we were doing this really. Getting nearly 400 people in one place on one day is a rare opportunity in such a sparsely populated part of the country. The fact that such a small proportion of them wanted advice on digital issues shows the scale of the challenge. And it was not because they were sorted for that kind of thing. I engaged a lot of people in conversation about use of the internet. The vast majority of them said things like “I don’t do the internet”, or “I am not interested in that kind of thing”. They were mainly older people, and most of them live in areas where both landline and mobile signals are poor. This is a combination of factors which combines to produce a lack of awareness of the benefits of being online. And, in the cases where connectivity is poor, even if they are willing, they probably won’t be able to pursue their interest.
But, we always knew this was not going to be easy. This event is the start of a process. The surgery wants to interact with people online, to help people manage their health through apps and online processes, and to cut down social isolation by connecting people together. I also met with Councillor Keith Hitchen who talked about the frustrations of carers having to travel long distances to meet and attend events. The traveling cuts into the respite time they have, and they often have to miss large parts of events because of the time it takes to get to and from the venue. Online events and other interactions would be so valuable in these instances.
So, there are a number of strands we will be pursuing in the coming weeks, including looking at ways of tackling connectivity issues, working out the most cost-effective ways of ensuring that people can get independent advice on their digital needs, and working with local organisations to upskill them in areas such as video-conferencing and streaming meetings.
I’ll leave the last word to the couple I talked to about their use of FaceTime. “Do you use it to talk to family abroad?” I asked them. “Yes, only last night we used it to see our newly-born 6th grandchild in Toronto” they said. Don’t you dare try to tell me (or them) that new technologies are de-humanising.