South Tees midwife improves digital inclusion

Grace Murray, digital midwife at South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, has been working to improve digital inclusion for women and birthing people who are pregnant in the South Tees area. Grace’s project aims to make smart devices and internet access more readily available, for people unable to access their digital care record for any reason. This is helping to improve access to digital technology and addressing healthcare inequality.

As outlined in the Better Births report, the NHS aims for everyone accessing maternity services to have access to a digital care record, by 2023/24. However, two million UK households struggle to afford internet access and 10 million lack the most basic digital skills. The North East and North Cumbria in particular, has high levels of digital exclusion and has one of the highest percentages of non-internet users in England.

Other than midwives keeping paper notes, Grace found there were no alternative solutions available to help women access their digital care record, if they did not own a smart device or have access to the internet. Keeping paper records is not practical in the long-term, as the information has to be inputted into the electronic system later. Once data has been transferred online, accessibility is limited for patients without a smart device and for patients who do not speak English.

After initial research found alternative solutions lacking, Grace approached the Hope Foundation. The Hope Foundation aims to reduce digital poverty and offers basic digital skills training to people living in Middlesbrough. Through their Furbdit programme, Grace registered to become a drop off point for used devices, which she could then distribute to anyone who needs them.

Additionally, Grace applied for funding from the Online Centres Network and the National Data Bank. This gives Grace access to SIM cards which can be used by women and birthing people who meet specific criteria.

Through Grace’s work, people in the South Tees area are benefitting from better access to their digital maternity care records. Maternity staff can communicate with their patients more easily through a smartphone app. Additionally, the project is contributing to the NHS’s sustainability goals, by minimising the use of paper records and reusing unwanted devices that would otherwise go to landfill.

Grace said: “Through this project, I feel like I can confidently say that we’ve been able to achieve every woman having equal access to the records digitally if they wanted it. I would love to be able to stand up at the end of next year and say that every single woman in the North East and North Cumbria has had exactly the same opportunity to access the records.”

Although the project is still within its early stages, Grace has already managed to help lots of women access their digital maternity records. Future plans for the project include digital skills workshops at family hubs and improving internet access for pregnant women living in areas without signal.

The project has the potential for future spread an adoption in maternity departments across the NHS.

Nicola Jackson, senior programme lead for the North East and North Cumbria Local Maternity and Neonatal System said: “We know that outcomes for people living in the North East and North Cumbria are poorer than in other areas of the country, and this is down to a range of complex factors. We need to identify which people need additional support so we can help improve outcomes for parents and their babies.”

Wally Charlton, strategic head / director of digital inclusion and engagement at the Integrated Care Board for the North East and North Cumbria said: “The work Grace has done here is a fantastic example of what can be achieved. We are delighted to highlight and show the rest of the North East and North Cumbria how we can support people who are digitally excluded to engage with services. We can support the removal of barriers such as access to connectivity, devices or skills by working with the third sector and others to improve health and outcomes.”

To donate your used devices to the project, or to find out more, please contact [email protected]