The Cumbria Rural Health Forum: initiating change and moving forward with technology

Author(s) : Ditchburn J, Marshall A.

Citation: Ditchburn J, Marshall A.  The Cumbria Rural Health Forum: initiating change and moving forward with technology. Rural and Remote Health (Internet) 2016; 16: 3738. Available: (Accessed 26 June 2016)

Introduction:  The Cumbria Rural Health Forum was formed by a number of public, private and voluntary sector organisations to collaboratively work on rural health and social care in the county of Cumbria, England. The aim of the forum is to improve health and social care delivery for rural communities, and share practical ideas and evidence-based best practice that can be implemented in Cumbria. The forum currently consists of approximately 50 organisations interested in and responsible for delivery of health and social care in Cumbria. An exploration of digital technologies for health and care was recognised as an initial priority. This article describes a hands-on approach undertaken within the forum, including its current progress and development.

Methods:  The forum used a modified Delphi technique to facilitate its work on discussing ideas and reaching consensus to formulate the Cumbria Strategy for Digital Technologies in Health and Social Care. The group communication process took place over meetings and workshops held at various locations in the county.

Results:  A roadmap for the implementation of digital technologies into health and social care was developed. The roadmap recommends the following: (i) to improve the health outcomes for targeted groups, within a unit, department or care pathway; (ii) to explain, clarify, share good (and bad) practice, assess impact and value through information sharing through conferences and events, influencing and advocacy for Cumbria; and (iii) to develop a digital-health-ready workforce where health and social care professionals can be supported to use digital technologies, and enhance recruitment and retention of staff.

Conclusions:  The forum experienced issues consistent with those in other Delphi studies, such as the repetition of ideas. Attendance was variable due to the unavailability of key people at times. Although the forum facilitated collective effort to address rural health issues, its power is limited to influencing and supporting implementation of change. Within the implementation phase, the forum has engaged in advising and facilitating policy change at all levels. Thus, the forum has become a voice to influence change towards the advancement of health and social care through digital technologies. The forum continues to serve as a think tank and influencer for change in rural health and social care issues in Cumbria. The forum has increased awareness of digital health and social care solutions, mapped best practice and developed a digital strategy for health and social care in Cumbria.

Key words: digital technology, e-health, England, health services, needs and demand, social care, strategy, telecare, telehealth, telemedicine.