OPAL: Social Prescribing and Digital Inclusion Ceartas

The Gathering 2018


Charity registered in Scotland SC035269

OPAL is a free information service for all adult (16+) residents of East Dunbartonshire and is a joint partnership between Ceartas Advocacy, Carers Link, East Dunbartonshire Citizens Advice Bureau and East Dunbartonshire Voluntary Action. All work together to get the information that you need.

  • From 3rd September 2018 to 4th March 2019
  • Award: £6,980 via Call 6

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Project plan

Project description

‘OPAL – East Dunbartonshire Information Line’ is a free information service, supporting all adult residents of East Dunbartonshire. OPAL callers are predominantly older people; people with disabilities; or people with long-term conditions. Research has shown that these groups are more likely to experience digital exclusion and a recent AgeUK study revealed older people struggle to access information/services online that are paramount to health and wellbeing.
After reviewing the mixed results of a pilot project ran in England (NHS Widening Digital Participation Fund, England only), where digital skills were ‘prescribed’ by GPs to those harder to reach groups, the OPAL team is possible to build on this as many links and support are already in place to make it a success in East Dunbartonshire.
This idea arose following a meeting with all practice managers, where they highlighted a clear gap in digital skills for those vulnerable/older people who come to the surgery.
At present, there are very few destination services for OPAL to refer to, but we feel this is a logical and much-needed extension to our existing service.
OPAL could offer some introductory support, initially through a home visit to establish the baseline ability level; and to find out what their goals are for using technology. The home visit would provide a friendly face and some personal reassurance that they can do this.
We would offer group sessions, using participants’ own devices or giving them access to modern devices. The group sessions would introduce beginners to the basics, gaining the skills and confidence they need to get started using connected devices, apps, websites and the internet. It would also provide an element of peer support.
By reaching those considered ‘harder to reach’, we can tackle both health and skill inequalities, reducing overall emergency admissions to health services in the area.

Project milestones

Phase 1

See a visible increase and uptake of digital inclusion related enquiries, with most coming by referral from Regent Gardens Medical Centre.

Phase 2

Two larger events in both East Dunbartonshire localities (East and West) with a programme of digital topics covered, those which have been identified as the most relevant to the people we support.

Phase 3

Make the process more sustainable Have those we have worked with leading on many elements of the group sessions.

Phase 4

Reduction of overall emergency admissions to health services in the area as a result of national outcome that: ‘People are able to look after and improve their own health and wellbeing and live in good health for longer.’



OPAL have been working in partnership with a local GP surgery to support digitally excluded patients to develop their digital skills. We hoped we could support clinical and admin staff by helping patients to with access local services and see the benefits of using tech to do things they wouldn't traditionally eg. access online services at the surgery, making online appointments and repeat prescriptions.

Unfortunately, and probably due to the fact it is an extremely efficiently run GP surgery, the project didn't take off, so we cleared some changes with Bev and changed the project:

We're now opening it East Dunbartonshire wide and taking the focus off GP surgeries but still using these and our own networks to identify digitally excluded people and run digital support groups for them. This is in addition to our Silver Surfers group that has ran prior to the project but as an enhanced version since the beginning of this project.

Through our own networks (like our dementia and acquired brain injury groups) and the Health Improvement Team, we identified a number of people who are interested in digital support. We have also taken on board some suggestions from Bev and are running our first 'Connect-ED' group on the 31st of January.

Although we won't necessarily be accessing these people through GPs, they will be patients at one of 17 in the area and are digitally excluded, in need of support to increase their skills. But we'll be working closer with the Wellbeing Network and Health Improvement seniors who have influence and platform at GP strategy meetings, so we can try and crack the social prescribing element.

In addition to above, we still offer visits to those who need a bit of extra digital support at home.

After our ambitious ‘social prescribing’ project in partnership with Regent Gardens Medical Centre didn’t take off as anticipated, we changed the project and decided to focus on enhancing our established Silver Surfers group and developing a new ‘Connect-ED’ group to support vulnerable adults in the community.

We recruited people through our own networks and with local partners including; EDVA, East Dunbartonshire CAB, Carers Link, and a number of others. Following the format of Silver Surfers, which has been a proven framework for those to develop their basic digital skills and build on them, we supported people who have been disconnected from local services and their community to reengage, with ongoing digital support via phone and email, and on a couple of occasions Skype.

This change of focus allowed us the chance to work more intensively with people who were very digitally excluded which has resulted in us spending more time with less individuals instead of less time with more individuals, which has proven very beneficial for those who needed that extra time and support.

Improvements in confidence and skills was evident at Connect-ED when we took all communications digital: from an initial reminder telephone call to members of the group, to all correspondence taking place across email, we took small steps that would have felt beyond reach that were significant enough for those who were very limited in their use of technology.

The Silver Surfers have also been able to get more in-depth information about topics, building on their established digital skills. Now they are at a level where they can identify sophisticated scam emails and often present them to the group(s), which is a clear sign of their personal development as unofficial digital champions.

Other common things we have discussed include online shopping; troubleshooting for problems both online/offline; accessing support and health information; learning how to use your device; searching for local councillors and preparing letters. All at different levels in relation to the ability of the individual, making it easier to understand for all.

We have also been able to refer people onto online resources and other supports within the community, digital or other.

Our digital work is delivered in partnership with: