Widening Digital Participation Programme helps patients improve their health

Two pilot projects are proving that digital technology helps people to better manage their health.

Evaluations of the pathfinder projects in Sheffield and Islington, North London, have revealed several successful outcomes including:

  • Helping young people in Islington to better manage mental health conditions by assisting them to access digital tools that can provide them with support when they most need it
  • Providing support to patients in Sheffield to help them better manage conditions in a holistic way, using digital tools.

NHS Digital’s Widening Digital Participation programme (WDP) aims to help thousands of people across the UK to boost their digital health skills, as one in 10 people in England lack the confidence and skills to fully benefit from digital, and in turn from the improvements to their health.

The three-year programme, run in partnership with Good Things Foundation, aims to ensure people have the skills, motivation and means to access relevant health information and services online. The programme is focusing on those who are socially excluded and so are most likely to suffer from health inequalities.

Sheffield and Islington were the first two of 20 local pathfinder projects being rolled out over three years up to March 2020. The pathfinders are partnerships between local organisations including Clinical Commissioning Groups, local authorities and community groups in areas of high deprivation and digital exclusion.

The evidence and insights gathered through these pilot projects have been developed into practical ‘How to Guides’ that can be shared with digital teams in the NHS and across Government to ensure all digital health services and tools are inclusive and accessible to everyone – particularly the most excluded.


Sheffield CCG worked in two neighbourhoods across the city, discovering how people with long-term conditions such as diabetes and asthma could use digital tools to improve the management of their health conditions. GPs referred patients to non-clinical support which reviewed their needs, introducing digital tools where required, supported by digital skills training where appropriate.

The evaluation showed that 858 people engaged with the pathfinder and 108 received in-depth support.


The pathfinder run by Islington CCG looked to introduce young people to mental health apps, supported by digital champions in local organisations. This helped to support them in the time between them being referred and receiving treatment, and between treatments.

A total of 238 people engaged with the pathfinder, 33 received in-depth support and 65 digital champions were recruited.

Nicola Gill, WDP Programme Director at NHS Digital, said: “We are very pleased with the outcomes of the first two pathfinders, which have been successful in helping excluded and vulnerable people to take control of their healthcare by providing them with the skills to access digital health information and services.

“We’ve learned a lot from these first pathfinders and we are going to look in-depth at the evaluation to see how the lessons learned can be used to support even more people and ensure digital inclusion is embedded across the NHS.”

Helen Milner, Chief Executive Officer of Good Things Foundation, said: “Digital has a powerful potential to reduce inequalities, help people to better manage health conditions and prevent illness. For this to happen, it’s crucial we are tailoring our approaches to the most excluded – which means focusing on the people and how digital can meet their needs, rather than looking for high-tech solutions.

“The findings from these two pathfinders, and those to follow, will help us to work with the NHS to shape policy and practice in this area, and ensure digital health really reaches those who can most benefit.”