A pioneering programme led by Scotland’s Digital Health and Care Innovation Centre, has seen more than 1,700 people in Scotland be supported by Digital Lifelines, equipping them with digital devices to reduce ‘unacceptable’ levels of drug-related harm and deaths.

The £3 million Scottish-government funded Digital Lifelines programme is giving participants access to devices that connect people with friends and family, support services, education, entertainment, travel and more.

The scheme was launched in April 2021 and so far has supported more than 1,700 participants in the region. A total of 1,056 devices have been accessed and 1,467 connectivity packages with unlimited data provided.

As well as providing mobile devices and access to data plans, the scheme also offers digital training and ongoing support through digital champions. By providing access to areas of life that many take for granted – such as online banking, health and social care access, education and connection to family and friends – the scheme is helping to support people at risk of harm through drugs.

The participants make up some of the most vulnerable people in the country, including those experiencing homelessness, release from custody, victims of abuse and those leaving hospital or residential services.

Something as simple as equipping participants with the means to set up and monitor an email address, means that they can participate actively in third party communications concerning them, often changing the way they are treated.

Carrie Thomson, Digital Lifelines Scotland portfolio lead, Digital Health and Care Innovation Centre, said: “Digital Lifelines provides one of Scotland’s most vulnerable groups with greater access to the confidence, skills, and motivation they need to be digitally included, alongside devices and connectivity that form digital solutions that keep them safe and that enable them to become and remain connected to family, friends, and relevant services that support them.

“Scotland continues to have an unacceptably high number of drug-related deaths, but the challenges are not unique to this country, and that’s why this progressive approach is attracting attention from other nations around the world as well as across the UK. In the 21st century, we need to take multiple different approaches to reducing harm and death from drug use by supporting people and tackling stigma. Digital Lifelines is a prime example of that. The model has been proven to work with other groups and has been tailored to help people at risk of harm through drugs.” 

The four-year programme is an extension of a Scottish Government initiative to improve digital inclusion across other marginalised groups in Scotland including the elderly. It has proved so effective that authorities in other nations, including Ireland and UAE, are monitoring its progress.