In the spring of 2017 the Scottish Government Digital Participation Team approached North Ayrshire charity CLASP (Community Led Action & Support Project) to deliver a digital participation project. As a result, that summer I started as Digital Participation Officer to set up and run the CLASP Digital project. This blog is a reflection on some of what I have learnt over the past two years. What follows is, I hope, an illustration of just one way in which increased levels of digital literacy is of benefit to Scotland.

Imagine you’re a retiree living on Arran, let’s say on the east coast, Blackwaterfoot perhaps, where you get a cracking view of sunsets over the Mull of Kintyre. You’re registered with NHS Ayrshire & Arran and one day, following an appointment with your GP, you receive a letter with an appointment to see a consultant at University Hospital Crosshouse near Irvine, on the mainland – either that or you are invited to log into the NHS Attend Anywhere app and receive your consultation via a video link. From the accompanying description you suspect Attend Anywhere might have something to do with camcorders and the worldwide web, but having spent the last 25 years successfully avoiding computers, mobile phones and websites, you sigh and imagine what the day of the appointment will involve…

First you have to either drive or catch a bus to Brodick in time to catch the ferry.

Next you take the 50 minute crossing to Ardrossan.

Then you have to catch a train to Kilwinning where you change for the train to Irvine.

Once you reach Irvine it’s either a bus (or two) or a taxi out to Crosshouse, where you find your consultant has been called away to deal with an emergency and your appointment will be rescheduled in due course.

You retrace your steps and arrive home none the wiser about your condition, stressed, exhausted and more than a few quid lighter. At best, your return journey has taken probably 7 hours.

Now.

Imagine you’re a retiree living on Arran and are digitally literate, with a 10” tablet and wifi… Imagine how much less stressed and tired you would be by being able to log-in, communicate face-to-face with the consultant for ten or fifteen minutes (or make another Attend Anywhere appointment if s/he wasn’t available), and get on with your day. Imagine also, how much less would be the impact on the environment.

Admittedly the above scenario is a product of my digitally-fevered imagination but nonetheless Attend Anywhere and other health-related apps have the potential to save £millions for the country in terms of maximising clinicians’ time, reducing stress and financial impact on patients, and minimising carbon footprint thereby contributing to fighting the climate emergency.

If you think the ‘digitally excluded’ version of the story is far-fetched, consider this: recently at a seminar, I heard the statistic that over 800,000 adults in Scotland have either never been online, or don’t know* they’ve been online (*that’s another story). Drilling down a little, it has been further estimated that about 45% of Scotland’s 60+ population is digitally excluded, which equates to around 500,000 adults – the cohort which has the biggest impact on NHS Scotland’s resources and for whom these apps would make life much easier. However, if almost half of the target audience is unable to use the technology, it surely makes sense to be addressing the shortfall in digital participation and essential digital skills to ensure the digital investment delivers a win-win.

Added to this, the capability of older people to communicate electronically with far-flung friends and family and to interact with their communities of interest can be a major contributor to combating loneliness and social isolation. The mental health and wellbeing benefits of this are incalculable and by extension also contribute to reducing impact on NHS Scotland’s resources.

As far as most people outwith the industry are concerned, the internet has existed for fewer than 30 years; we’re very much at the beginning of our digital journey and who knows where the path will take us, even in the next 10 or 15 years. Virtual reality, artificial intelligence and blockchain – examples of just 3 fledgling digital technologies – are all in their infancy, and the marketplace for mainstream apps is continually evolving. For those who don’t already have the essential digital skills to build upon, the digital divide gets deeper and harder to cross as the days and weeks go by.

As a result of this accumulated knowledge, CLASP Digital’s focus going forward will be to engage with older learners with the intention of digitally ‘future-proofing’ as many senior citizens as we can; giving them the confidence and capabilities to use smart technology – before they’re forced by circumstance to have to learn. Thanks to Charter 7 funding we will be spreading our wings further around North Ayrshire, reaching more older learners, addressing loneliness and social isolation, and spreading the e-Health word.

So: DO NOT PANIC – Keep Calm and Contact CLASP Digital!

You can contact CLASP Digital using any of the following:

digital@clasps.org.uk
@CLASP_Digital
Tel: 01294 602711