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NHS England to train people to use the internet

NHS England has announced it will train 100,000 citizens in basic online skills by 2014 in order to reduce health inequalities.

As part of its Putting Patients First business plan for 2013/14- 2015/16, NHS England said it will develop a programme to support people that currently do not, but could if they wished, use the internet. This will reduce inequalities in access to online health services, it added.

This is the latest in the Government’s attempts to steps up the move to online health services. Pulse reported this week that Choose and Book is being relaunched to increase its use while health secretary Jeremy Hunt has signalled his ambition for a ‘paperless NHS’ by 2018, which he has claimed will save £4.4bn.

The plan has been criticised by LMC leaders, who said that it detracts from effective methods for reducing inequalities.

NHS England’s business plan said: ‘The Health Online Programme will improve the way in which people interact with health services, including online access to key elements of the care process. 100,000 citizens will be trained in basic online skills to boost health literacy by April 2014.’

A statement from NHS England said they would target areas of social deprivation and would work with local initiatives who have experience in providing online skills to select eligible citizens.

An NHS England spokesperson said: ‘The programme will cover all of England. We are particularly targeting areas of social deprivation and health inequalities. We are looking to work with a range of local agencies including community centres, libraries, voluntary organisations, GP practices, local health projects etc.

‘We will be selecting local initiatives with proven track records of helping people get online. We also want a good mix of geography (spread round country, urban & rural mix) and audience (eg older people, black & minority ethnic communities).’

When asked who would carry out the training, they said: ‘We are in the process of finalising commercial arrangements with training organisations.’

But Dr Robert Morley, executive secretary of Birmingham LMC, rubbished the plan. He said: ‘Instead of suggesting this rubbish the government should be investing in core general practices and premises to reduce health inequalities. That would be the best way to save money in secondary care. The government seems to be scrabbling round looking for new schemes. NHS 111 seemed like a good idea to address health inequalities, but look what happened to that.’

Dr Paul Roblin, chief executive of Berks, Bucks and Oxon LMC, said the scheme could be beneficial if it was targeted to the people who most need it, such as older people or poorer people. But he cautioned that teaching would only be valuable if users had a computer and online access afterwards. ‘Some people don’t have any internet skills whatsoever, including people in poverty. But online equipment isn’t cheap. It is a luxury for the people who can’t afford food and accommodation.’