Agenda item

"Bridging the digital gap - Improving health outcomes through digital innovation" Annual Report of the Director of Public Health 2020 - 2021

Directors of Public Health (DsPH) have a statutory requirement to produce public health reports. These reports are the DsPH’s professional statement about the health of the local community.


The 2020-21 report focuses on digital exclusion and the challenge of ensuring that all residents, in particular those who would gain most benefit are able to access digital services.






The Director of Public Health (DPH) briefed the Board on his Annual Report 2020 – 2021. He said that pursuant to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a cultural change in people’s interaction from conventional face-to-face engagement to online. It was therefore crucial that Medway responded quickly to these challenges. Digital innovation will ensure residents, particularly those who lived independently, had the capability to stay digitally connected and supported if necessary.


Digital poverty - the Director of People – Children and Adults’ Services expressed support for the report’s focus on digital exclusion. She informed the Board that at a poll conducted among social care and early help colleagues during the first lockdown, 35% of the families in Medway were experiencing digital poverty. She considered that whilst a laptop was a standard provision in most schools, Medway should seek to eradicate digital poverty ahead of other local authorities.


The DPH pointed out that the use of laptops was essential to enable children to access remote education delivered through Zoom or MS Teams.  He highlighted the benefits for people who acquired basic digital skills, including increasing earnings, being able to buy cheaper products online and communicating with family and friends more frequently.


Access to advancing technology: A Board member commended the idea of improving health outcomes through digital innovation yet cautioned the need to keep up with the rapid technological advancement. This would enable residents to retain access to emerging technologies. This was supported by another member who agreed that whilst the Council was currently making best use of current technology, it should look to review the infrastructure and replace any obsolete devices or technology within any community hubs.


The DPH explained the Council was aware of the need to facilitate access to digital services for the population of Medway. This would support some of the most vulnerable communities to improve their life chances. Local libraries continue to provide essential services for people who need to get online and  deal with issues related to employment, benefits, or gain access to health or other services online.


A Board Member advocated eradicating digital exclusion in Medway in five years’ time.  The member suggested that older people may also benefit from digital innovation. The Council should seek to support elderly people who did not have the equipment or capability to go online. Consideration should be given to providing older adults in need with equipment, to the same extent as that provided to children. This would enable all local people to access free WIFI via future capability being implemented across Medway, for example through the use of the lighting columns as WIFI base stations.


The Joint Senior Responsible Officer (JSRO), Medway and Swale Integrated Care Partnership, highlighted the provision of an iPad library to loan equipment to care homes without this technology, This equipment was made possible through subsidized arrangements with IT suppliers. The JSRO stated that action was being taken to improve internet access for the primary care networks (PCNs) in Strood and the Peninsula.  Further work was being undertaken to explore the feasibility of linking the PCN systems with other clinical systems.


The DPH informed the Board there was a commitment within the NHS to increase the capacity and capability of service users to get the most benefit from improvements in technology. This would help residents get the most value from their interaction and engagement with the NHS and other services digitally.


Members expressed their appreciation for the report.




The Health and Wellbeing Board noted the Annual Report of the Director of Public Health 2020-2021.





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