Social Inclusion online?

This morning, I came across this interview in The Guardian with Tim Hunt, Mental Health Lead on the Patient Opinion site which is from a couple of weeks back now.

I had never heard of Patient Opinion, but it is a site which, unsurprisingly, given the name,  allows patients to give opinions on the services that they have received in the NHS and categorises these opinions in terms of Primary and Secondary Health Trusts.

You can enter your postcode and find out what other people (patients)  have said about different services in your area.

It seemed like an interesting idea so I spent a good few minutes there (I have a low attention span so that’s quite a while).

There seemed to be a lot of very positive opinions, thanking particular doctors or medical teams – and some of the more critical opinions were more about the way that services run rather than treatment issues.

When sites like ‘ServiceUserOpinion’ exist or something snappier, likely (because that is a bit cumbersome) , where users in different authorities can rate and comment on the service received from social services and compare what they are offered together, would we be surprised if the feedback were mainly positive?

It would be a site that I’d want to visit often –  for ideas about what people have found to be positive and negative about interactions with social workers – partly because I’m just nosey though.


But there is a difference between health care and social care. Health care is more or less universal. Social Care generally takes place within the corners of society that some people want to pretend don’t exist. I’ve mentioned this previously but will labour the point again – where someone may mention in conversation that they saw a nurse or a doctor (because we all do), they might not want to chat about when their social worker visited because it has all sorts of different connotations attached.

It made me think though, how much more information people have when they have access to computers and Internet access in general – do people with access to the Internet have louder voices than others.

With more government consultation accepting online submissions – it is definitely easier to make a voice heard without saying a word.

I say that because very few people I visit regularly  have any kind of Internet access and when I say few, I can think of two in the last couple of years – one whose grandchildren lived with her and the other whose grandchildren visited regularly and set it up mostly for when they came to visit.

I wonder how much richness of social interaction, information and resources is lost to those without access to something that we often take for granted.

Behind the veneer of a computer screen we have access at our fingertips to information, support and communication in a way that is transforming our lives – but it is also creating an informational have and have-not society both internationally  but also within our own nation.

All the wards at the hospital now have computer rooms – a lot of the day services do too. But having a computer doesn’t mean people will want to use it!

The world and sector of social care will change when the users have more access to the same information that the professionals have. Information can be an important mechanism of control – without information or knowledge we are kept in our places and reliant on ‘people’ telling us what we can and can’t have – what is and isn’t possible.

Currently I see one of my important roles as being to share information about what a diagnosis means, medication and what support networks and facilities are available locally and co-ordinating (if necessary) access to those facilities and, for example,  talking people (and families)  who have just received diagnoses of dementia through the process of accessing support and future planning.

How much of the job will be redundant when the information is easily accessible?

Some people may respond better to searching for themselves rather than being told.

I see it as a different route to information, access and voice rather than a replacement. Human interaction will never cease to be important but there is an imbalance between the connected and the non-connected and it is likely to grow as more people shift from one to the other.

I don’t want to battle against progress though, I just want to be sure that the needs of those without the access are not lost in the process of virtual democratisation .

5 thoughts on “Social Inclusion online?

  1. I like the internet and all that – My 78 year old Mum doesn’t understand it or want to understand it. It is as you say cb just another source……..not the only source.

  2. Hi cb
    I’m one of the team running Patient Opinion, and I’m interested to hear your take on what we are doing.
    We’re very aware of the ‘digital divide’ and the fact that many of the people who might want to use Patient Opinion won’t have net access or may not want to use a computer.
    Currently we also accept feedback from people who call our 0845 number which is on all our material. We type up their experience for them and put it on the web. In some places, where we are able to work locally with the mental health trust or a hospital or PCT, we also provide a postal route, so people can fill in one of our forms and send it back to us by freepost. Then we put that on the web too. Our aim is to create a public resource of user/patient feedback which is big enough to motivate and inform those who are improving local services, wherever you are in the UK. It is a big job.
    I’m not so sure health care and social care are really different in the ways you suggest – how many people are happy to talk about their bowel problems, their scaly skin or their miscarriage in person? Yet on the web, people will share the most intimate things, in ways which can really make a difference to service providers. That’s what we are about.
    All the best

  3. Hi James
    Great site – by the way, I found it surprisingly positive actually. And don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t trying to be critical. I just feel a bit frustrated sometimes that all the march of technology moves past some of the more vulnerable members of society but I am greatly heartened that there are other means of contacting the service and may, in fact, pass some of the material on. I know lots of people who would love to know that their voices were being heard on matters which are important to them.
    And I completely agree about way that the internet can be used more flexibly and anonymously. I just wish it could be more inclusive but that’s a much larger battle than any one of us can fight!

  4. Thanks cb.

    Even though we’ve been at it a while, we do feel we’re only just starting to learn how something like this could work for users. Feedback is all very well – but how do we turn it into real service improvement from the user perspective? That’s the challenge!

    You’re right to worry about digital inclusion – it is a real issue, and we don’t have good enough answers yet.



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