Promoting partnership working in the NHS

Liverpool CCG & North West TUC unionlearn – More Independent


The Liverpool More Independent (Mi) programme was part of an Innovate UK-funded initiative called dallas (delivering assistive living technologies at scale). The Mi digital inclusion project was undertaken to enable service users in the Liverpool area to develop basic skills and understanding in using the internet and computer technology.

It had been identified that a significant number of local residents lacked the awareness or equipment to complete simple tasks such as ordering prescriptions online or finding information or equipment which could aid home care. Such barriers highlighted a clear digital inclusion need for specific groups in Liverpool. Previous national campaigns such as Go Online had made some progress in this area, and Mi aimed to go further through a targeted, localised approach. The project objectives included the recruitment of volunteer digital champions (DCs), the creation of digital hubs located around the city, and a target of reaching 1500 learners.

The challenge

Prior to the project, digital exclusion levels in Liverpool stood at approximately 20 per cent - a sizeable section of the population (the national figure is approximately 13 per cent). The significance of digital inclusion levels can be seen in the links with social and financial inclusion levels. People who are poorer, less skilled, in ill-health, and older, are the people most likely to be digitally excluded. Over half of all tenants in social housing are not online. As such, people that the NHS need to engage with about online healthcare can be the most difficult to reach. This context highlights why the Mi project was such a crucial initiative.

The project

Liverpool CCG (in designate form) submitted its bid for Mi in early 2012. Initial planning conversations were held with Liverpool Vision, which led to further procurement and partnership engagement activity. This included establishing connections with 3TC, a third sector organisation with a local presence and reputation for providing affordable recycled computers. Connections were also made with the Trades Union Congress (TUC), which has strong knowledge and expertise in this field through its dedicated learning and skills organisation, unionlearn. 

Unionlearn has trained union learning reps (ULRs) from all unions and within many different employers, to promote learning within workplaces and beyond. The ULR role is essentially a voluntary role (there is entitlement to some facility time in a unionised workplace, but the role is on top of a rep’s day job). The role involves engaging with and signposting learners. The digital champion (DC) role is similar, and many ULRs are also now DCs. The DCs trained as part of the Mi project were a mixture of paid staff and volunteers from the organisations hosting each hub. They were not technology experts, but had basic IT knowledge, could use the internet, and underwent basic training (at least one day) as part of the project. Their role was to inspire others to get online, many of whom had no motivation to do so, until tempted (e.g. via hobbies) or instructed to do so (e.g. to meet the requirements of their jobseeker’s allowance).

Other local partners also joined the Mi consortium, such as Mersey Travel, that was able to provide a suitable training facility. All partners provided a clear indication of their roles and responsibilities and established parameters for how they would work together.

The objectives of Mi were aligned with the wider social inclusion agenda of the TUC, and unionlearn was in a position to recruit the DCs needed to lead the learning process from a grassroots level. In many cases this recruitment gave unemployed individuals a valuable opportunity to upskill and gain work experience.

Digital hubs are now in place across the city, and the hub at Aintree Hospital stands out as a successful example of how partnership working between commissioners, NHS managers and trade unions can bring tangible benefits for a local community.

As Joan Bennett (Mi carers lead, Liverpool CCG) commented: “The digital hub at Aintree Hospital has brought excellent results for patients, but beyond that has also provided an opportunity for hospital staff with digital learning needs. We have seen domestic staff, healthcare assistants and porters all accessing the hub to improve their computer skills.”

What has been achieved so far?

By the end of the project in May 2015, over 300 digital champions had been recruited and digital hubs across the city had enabled Mi to reach and support 3,717 individuals with digital inclusion needs (more than double the initial target). Evaluation data shows that 97 per cent of participants considered the digital hub valuable to the community and 99 per cent found digital champions helpful. The positive impact of the project has been huge for some individuals. Carol, a UNISON steward, attended a digital hub to learn about using email and offered the following feedback:

“I never thought I would be able to use a computer, I was a bit scared of using one and thought I was too old to learn. I am so glad that Marie (hub manager) persuaded me to have a go, it has opened up a whole new world for me and I feel confident enough to help others and show them what they have been missing.”

John Webb (project manager, Mi) said: “If a healthcare organisation decides to offer online services, it could potentially exclude a large number of patients if they don’t have the skills or confidence to use the new methods. The Mi project, with the expertise of skilled partners like unionlearn, has offered crucial help for people to adapt and avoid becoming digitally excluded.”

Laura Robertson-Collins (senior union support officer, TUC unionlearn) added: “TUC unionlearn was delighted to bring our experience in promoting digital inclusion to the Mi project. Getting people online across the North West has been a priority for us over several years as digital inclusion is vital for social justice. We cannot have a large minority of people left behind as more and more services and resources default to digital. The unionlearn model using union learning reps and digital champions to reach ‘hard to reach learners’ means we can effectively promote learning across workplaces and communities.”

Looking at the broader context, Liverpool CCG is confident that Mi has helped to address local health inequalities - with particular impact noted in black and minority ethnic (BME) communities - and also that the successful partnership work involved can be built on as the region progresses with the Healthy Liverpool agenda in 2016. It is also worth noting the relevance of Mi in the national healthcare and technology agenda, as outlined by the National Information Board’s Personalised health and care 2020: a framework for action paper.

Top tips

Joan Bennett advises keeping a clear focus on the ‘3 Ps’ of partnership, patients and participation. Proactive engagement throughout the process is also key, alongside maximising the expertise of third sector and trade union colleagues.

As John Webb reflects: “In some respects, the role of Liverpool CCG in this project was to coordinate and bring people together, but also know when to step back, to enable our partners to do what they do best.”

For more information please contact:

John Webb – Mi Project Manager, Liverpool CCG –

Dave Horsfield – Mi Programme Manager, Liverpool CCG –

Lynn Collins, Regional Secretary of NWTUC –