In an exclusive interview with Digital Health News, Head of 100% Digital Leeds Jason Tutin has said that digital inclusion is not being pushed as strongly around the country as it is in Leeds due to strict budgets and the financial struggles of councils and the NHS.

Despite some good work being done in the digital inclusion space, there is nowhere else in the country that has a digital inclusion set up and programme like in Leeds, where 100% Digital Leeds have a clear remit.

The programme is led by the digital inclusion team in the Integrated Digital Service at Leeds City Council and Leeds Health and Care Partnership NHS West Yorkshire Integrated Care Board (ICB).

The team works with partners across the city in various third sector, public sector and health and care settings to strengthen digital inclusion infrastructure in communities to increase access, engagement and participation.

“There are some places doing some good stuff in the digital inclusion space… but to the best of my knowledge nowhere else has a permanent team that is core funded to focus specifically and only on digital inclusion. I think Leeds is unique in that respect,” Tutin said.

Financial pressure

As for the reason why there are not similar teams to 100% Digital Leeds in other areas of the country, Tutin highlighted the focus on budgets and financial pressure that many councils and the NHS are under.

“Every council is struggling, as is the NHS, as is the sector, everyone is struggling and so if you’re making a financial decision or looking at your budget for the year for staffing, where do you invest?” he said.

“The NHS and third sector are under massive financial pressure and demand for all of their services is through the roof, so to try and bring digital inclusion into that as an additional bit of work, it is going to be a very short conversation, because nobody’s got the time, and nobody’s got the capacity”

Tutin explained how a lot of time was spent in Leeds working out how to not make it feel like more work and that actually it is just a different way of doing the existing work and achieving the existing goals, outcomes and objectives.

“We’ve been doing this a long time now, my team were appointed in 2018 and we’ve successfully made the case that investing in our team, investing in digital inclusion is a return on investment,” Tutin said.

“We’ve got all of these city strategies: health and wellbeing strategy, ageing well older person’s strategy, best council ambition, inclusive growth and so on. Digital inclusion is in all of those, because we’ve successfully made the case that you cannot achieve all of these other strategies if you don’t factor in digital inclusion.”

Without factoring in digital inclusion, Tutin said, organisations will achieve those strategies for the 80% of people they have always achieved it for and the same 10% or 20%  will continue to get left behind because they are the people that are digitally excluded and cannot take advantage of all the opportunities.

100% Digital Leeds’ impact

The 100% Digital Leeds team has made a big impact on the health sector in the region since it’s establishment five years ago, most notably working with Cross Gates and District Good Neighbours to develop the first Digital Health Hub in Leeds.

Digital Health Hubs are dedicated community organisations and locations with trusted people on hand to help their service users overcome barriers to digital inclusion so that they can access relevant information and tools to improve their health and wellbeing.

The team has since partnered with Local Care Partnerships (LCPs) to developing a community-based approach to digital inclusion to enable digital health participation and the resulting model has Digital Health Hubs at its heart.

The initial development of the approach took place with Beeston and Middleton LCP and saw the development and launch of an initial five Digital Health Hubs in the LCP footprint. The implementation model was developed with York Road LCP, which has seen the development of a further 10 Digital Health Hubs in that area.

Looking ahead

Tutin says he would like digital inclusion to be led and owned by someone in all parts of the country, like in Leeds, to enable it to be successful in the health and care sector.

NHS Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) did award We Are Digital a contract to conduct a digital inclusion review back in 2021, he said, but only Leeds has invested time and money in it over a prolonged period.

“If nobody’s leading it [digital inclusion], that mean’s nobody’s owning it and there’s nobody accountable for it, and that means everybody’s doing the best they can which will only get your so far, but it’s not far enough,” he said.

He also made clear that while it is unlikely that digital inclusion can be achieved in the short term, what can be put in place is “a better support system” that is “more joined up and more collaborative across the city cross sectors”.

Although the team calls themselves 100% Digital Leeds, “that doesn’t mean that we expect or want 100% of people doing digital 100% of the time,” Tutin explained.

“It’s not about forcing people, but what it should be is that 100% of people have the choice and the opportunity to do digital in a way that’s right for them when it’s right for them and at the moment that is not happening.

“For too many people, that choice is forced upon them in the sense that they don’t have a choice because they can’t afford this stuff or nobody’s helping them to use the stuff.”

The ultimate goal for 100% Digital Leeds, and what Tutin hopes will be a shared goal across the country, is to reach a point where “everybody can make an informed choice as to whether or not they use digital and in what context”.