Help needed to show Bedfordians the benefits of digital public services

As more health and counseling services move online, it’s important that residents don’t feel isolated if they don’t have the required digital skills, a meeting heard.

Mark Harris, Director of Adult Operational Services, told the Health and Wellbeing Council on Wednesday (June 8) that there is a large group of people who do not have access to digital.

“And as such there could be an increased risk of isolation as more and more services move online,” he said.

Committee chair, Cllr Louise Jackson (Labour, Harpur Ward) said: “It is unclear how we are going to be able to get more people online in the face of the cost of living crisis.

“Where people are trying to balance how they’re going to heat their homes, how they’re going to feed their families, and also buy technology and have internet access.

“It’s a little worrying because our NHS is moving more and more into this digital space. There are all kinds of motivations to move the services we rely on to digital.

“But how can we make sure these people are not left behind,” she wonders.

Cllr James Valentine (Labour, Kempston West Ward) said he recently signed up for eConsult with his GP but it was “a little difficult”.

“It took me about half an hour to figure it out,” he said.

“I thought about what it would look like for an older person who isn’t very computer literate or maybe doesn’t have a PC.

“I don’t want to criticize GPs at all, there are far too many negative statements about the valuable work they do.

“But GP practices need to be very careful to ensure there is always a way for those who are not computer savvy to contact them.

“Because otherwise they will potentially abandon those who need it the most, which are, of course, the elderly,” he said.

Dr Roshan Jayalath, clinical manager for mental health at BLMK, said as a local GP he knows the challenges some patients face with digital.

But he added that people who use eConsult liberate the other methods of contacting a GP.

Councilor Jackson said: “In terms of things like eConsult, we just have to take patients with us and help people understand the benefits of [digital] services.”

Bedford Borough Council offers digital support services to help residents improve their digital skills and stay safe online.

More information can be found on the council’s website or in its libraries.

by John Guinn
Local Democracy Journalist

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