Following other correspondents who have questioned NHS leadership decisions, I want to express concern about the decision by local NHS leaders to hold a consultation during a pandemic lockdown when elsewhere in the country such public consultation has been postponed as unsuitable during pandemic restrictions.
The pandemic meant the consultation was driven online – which works for some, but I only realised belatedly just how many people are digitally excluded.
Many members of the public do not have access to the internet or cannot use the internet with confidence. In fact, many of the people who will be most affected by the proposed changes, including elderly or infirm people, people with mental health problems or with learning disabilities (who are more likely to require acute care than those without these conditions), as well as those struggling financially, are the least likely to be able to engage in an online consultation.
In normal times, some of these issues can to a limited degree be overcome through access to technology, and support, provided at libraries and community centres. However, because of the Covid-19 pandemic and the closure of all non-essential services, this was not available.
According to the Office for National Statistics, in 2018 there were still 5.2million adults in the UK who have either never used the internet or have not used it in the last three months, described as “internet non-users”. The 2019 Consumer Digital Index concluded 22% of the population) do not have the digital skills needed for everyday life in the UK.
This means that as many as 1 in 5 people in LLR would not have had effective access to online meetings and other communications and sources of information. Anyone completing a hard copy of the questionnaire – which had to be specially requested – would have been completing it on the basis of only a tiny fraction of the information available.
Given all this, it is abundantly clear that this consultation should not have been carried at this time.