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Making sure no one is left behind in the digital age

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A person using their phone to view information
PHE is keen to make sure everyone has access to the information they need to make an informed choice about screening

Screening programme information is absolutely crucial for people to make an informed choice about tests offered to them. The way this information is designed and distributed has a big impact on how well the public receive it and ultimately make their choices – this much we know!

Screening information leaflets have been making their way to the public for many years, via direct mail along with invitation letters. Public Health England (PHE) currently invests a significant amount of resource in creating and sending out the leaflets.

PHE works hard to make sure the leaflets:

An appetite for digital

But the world we live in is changing. The internet has been around for long enough that most people have forgotten, or never knew, what life was like before digital technology came along.

Printed media has been on the decline for several years and the majority of us now consume our information online. More and more of us are demanding to communicate and engage in a digital way. Services need to respond accordingly to remain connected to users.

PHE has been on a journey of creating new online digital information and making it up to date, easy to access and engaging. Just take a look at the animation explaining the antenatal and newborn screening programmes to get a flavour of what’s happening.

However, we can’t assume that everyone will have an easy time accessing information online.

We know that in the UK:

  • 6.0 million people (11%) cannot turn on a device
  • 7.1 million people (13%) cannot open an app
  • 6.1 million people (12%) are ‘digitally disengaged’ - they show no or few digital behaviours

We know that of the UK population who is offline:

  • 47% come from a low income household
  • 48% are under 60 years old - this challenges the assumption that the offline population are always elderly

PHE working with Citizens Online

PHE has asked Citizens Online to undertake an equalities impact assessment for digital change. This will take a deep look at the different factors at play and identify where the benefits and pitfalls of changing to online information may be.

Citizens Online is a UK charity committed to researching, addressing and promoting the issues of digital inclusion. Our work is about ensuring the benefits of the internet and digital technologies are available to everyone.

We help organisations tackle digital exclusion by supporting them to understand the issues more deeply, and with relevance to their specific area of interest. Then we help them develop strategies and action plans to ensure no one is left behind in the digital age.

What we hope to learn

We are working with PHE over the next few months to learn more about the individual screening programmes.

We intend to look at:

  • which information is essential
  • how the information is working
  • how the information is distributed
  • how the information is understood
  • what the different options are for each screening programme
  • where to prioritise printed media in future
  • equalities issues for different demographic groups, for example older people, disabled people and people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or queer (LGBTQ+)

We will be producing a report and making some recommendations that we hope will enable PHE to change with the times while ensuring people who still need information in print form can continue to access it.

We would love to hear from you with any views and opinions you have about print and digital formats in your own screening work.

Contact Rich Denyer-Bewick, Operations Director at Citizens Online, for more information.

PHE Screening blogs

PHE Screening blogs provide up to date news from all NHS screening programmes. You can register to receive updates direct to your inbox, so there’s no need to keep checking for new blogs. If you have any questions about this blog article, or about population screening in England, please contact the PHE screening helpdesk.

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  1. Comment by Irene Stratton posted on

    This recent Radio 4 programme covers this topic and is worth a listen - the numbers here are that 22% of people lack day-to-day digital skills:

    Digital Future: the New Underclass

    Dr Josie Barnard investigates the deep social divides created by the digital world.

    Whether booking a flight to go on holiday or ordering a takeaway, digital technology is so embedded in everyday life that it's easy to assume everyone is on a level playing field. Or that those who aren't are part of an older generation who didn't grow up with computers. But that's a dangerous assumption.

    22% of the British population lack the digital skills they need to get by day-to-day. That's more than one in five people who struggle with signing their child up to school, filling in a tax return, or even using a smartphone to make a call. And as more and more essential services move online, falling behind the pace of change carries severe consequences.

    For young people., the risks of being left behind are buried under the assumption that they are digital natives - that they have supposedly grown up with an innate ability to use digital technology. But as the number of smartphone-only households grows, millions of children are in danger of their digital world shrinking around a tiny touchscreen.

    Dr Barnard asks if this is simply a question of affordability and motivation, or whether more complicated factors are at play. She speaks to people struggling to find space at public computer banks to complete their Universal Credit forms, and a group who are jumping hurdles to get online because of their severe dyslexia, and gets behind the screens of smartphone-only teenagers to find out how the kind of device and the way we use it can be just as detrimental as not having it at all.

    Presenter: Dr Josie Barnard
    Producer: Emma Barnaby
    Executive Producer: Deborah Dudgeon

    A Whistledown production for BBC Radio 4