Almost a half (45%) of people in the UK have either struggled or know someone who has struggled to access NHS health services using apps or online tools since the start of the pandemic, according to a new survey from BT.
This figure was higher for younger people, with 62% of those aged 16-24 saying they or someone they know had struggled to access health services online, compared to 39% of those aged over 55.
With many day-to-day services shifting online during the Covid-19 outbreak, the survey by polling organisation Opinion Matters for BT revealed that more than a third (36%) of 2,301 people polled said that they, or someone they know, had struggled to use online meeting apps like Zoom, while a third (33%) said they’d struggled to order food and drink via mobile apps at bars or restaurants.
Other online tasks some have struggled with include using government test, track and trace tools – with 33% saying they’d struggled – accessing events using electronic tickets on smartphones (28%) and making payments online (28%).
The main reason given by those who have struggled is that they (27%) didn’t know where to turn to get the right information and advice. 22% said they lacked the necessary digital skills, while 17% felt that they did not have the right device, such as a smartphone, to access the services online.
More than a quarter (26%) of those polled said they’d been unable to, or decided not to, access a service or event due to online requirements. ‘Too much hassle’ was the most cited reason for this (33%), particularly among older respondents (41%).
Other reasons included concerns about online security with the app or website (30%); people not being bothered to download the app in question (26%); or concerns about sharing their data (24%). Specific responses included that people ‘didn’t have data or space left on the phone due to the number of apps required since Covid’.
While some have struggled to deal with the increased use of apps and online tools to access services during the pandemic, many would like to see some of these online solutions continuing. A majority of people surveyed said they would like to see things like accessing banking (71%), using smartphone tickets to access events (50%) and ordering food and drink at bars and restaurants (39%) staying online. However, a majority wanted to see things like accessing NHS services and appointments (43%) and social gatherings and meetings (35%) returning offline.
According to the Lloyds Bank UK consumer digital index 2021 report – an annual look at digital skill levels across the UK – the pandemic has encouraged significantly more people to use online tools, with 1.5 million more people now using the internet since the start of the outbreak. This means that 95% of people are now ‘online’, up from 92% pre-pandemic. However, it warns that the 5% not online are at greater risk of being excluded from day-to-day services and activities.
Professor Kerensa Jennings, senior adviser on digital impact at BT, said: “A number of great online innovations and solutions have emerged during the pandemic that have helped keep us all safe and able to access vital services.
“But, while it’s encouraged more of us to use mobile apps and online tools, it’s clear there are still some people struggling with the technology. In some cases, because they aren’t very confident with their digital skills, or because they don’t have access to technology like a smartphone or connectivity. Others have legitimate concerns about online security and sharing their data.
“As access to many vital public services like healthcare is likely to stay online, alongside a growing range of entertainment, shopping and business services, it’s really important we make sure that no one is left behind, and we offer targeted support and help to those who need it. Through BT’s free digital skills initiative, we are committed to continuing to tackle these challenges.”
In 2019, BT launched its Skills for Tomorrow initiative, with the aim of helping people in the UK make the most of life in the digital world.
BT announced earlier this year it had reached its original goal of helping 10 million people across the UK to improve their digital skills, five years ahead of schedule. Key to achieving this milestone was the success of BT’s Top Tech Tips campaign in partnership with ITV, which helped 5.7 million people learn vital new digital skills required during lockdown.
BT Skills for Tomorrow offers a range of free resources and tips for home life and work, including a recently added section on how to access NHS services online, including using the NHS app.