Locked out: Digitally excluded people’s experiences of remote GP appointments

Healthwatch England finds the move to more digitally-led healthcare has worked well for some but excluded others over the past year. The report explores how people have been excluded and what needs to happen to get the care they need.
Image of person attending online GP appointment

Healthwatch Haringey was one of the five Healthwatch chosen to research the impact of remote care. We interviewed patients and practice staff in Haringey and fed our findings through to Healthwatch England.


The move to remote GP appointments as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic happened very quickly. NHS England advised GP practices to triage patients by a telephone or online consultation system before providing them with an appointment and only providing face-to-face appointments where clinically necessary. 

We know that while this has worked well for some, it has created barriers for others. We spoke to people traditionally more likely to experience digital exclusion to understand why and how this can impact their healthcare experiences, especially during the pandemic. These groups included older people, people with disabilities, and people with limited English.

Key findings

The new report, Locked out: Digitally excluded people’s experiences of remote GP appointments, investigates why people have been excluded, including lack of digital skills, language barriers and lack of interest in using technology to go online. 

Healthwatch England identified five principles for post-COVID-19 care to ensure everyone has access to the appointments they need.

Five principles for post-COVID digital healthcare

  1. Maintain traditional models of care alongside remote methods and support people to choose the most appropriate appointment type to meet their needs. 
  2. Invest in support programmes to give as many people as possible the skills to access remote care.
  3. Clarify patients' rights regarding remote care, ensuring people with support or access needs are not disadvantaged when accessing care remotely. 
  4. Enable practices to be proactive about inclusion by recording people's support needs.
  5. Commit to digital inclusion by treating the internet as a universal right.

To find out more about the move to remote care and read the Healthwatch England report, please use the button below.

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