NHS Digital has unveiled that a “lack of skills and a distrust of health information online” are two of the biggest barriers for patients to use the internet.

New research, carried out by NHS Digital and Digital Unite, found that specially trained health and social care staff and volunteers can support individuals to safely and confidently manage their health online, ultimately increasing their confidence to use digital health tools.

The research also found that 58% of existing “digital champions” had been asked by learners for assistance in using search engines to find health information about their specific conditions.

Despite the fast-approaching digital age, it transpires that 11.9 million people (22%) do not have the essential digital skills needed for day-to-day life in the UK, and by 2030 it is forecast that 4.5 million UK adults will remain digitally disengaged unless there is a step change in the provision of digital skills and confidence.

Nicola Gill, programme lead at NHS Digital, said: “We are committed to ensuring everyone has the confidence, skills and means to access and use digital health services and tools, particularly the most excluded. When it comes to health it’s incredibly important that people are helped in a personal and empathetic way and we know that digital health champions make that difference.”

Distrust is often cited as a barrier between patients, healthcare professionals and the uptake of tech, with a recent YouGov survey revealing that the mass majority of NHS staff are not comfortable with the idea of “big tech” companies such as Facebook and Apple analysing their patient data.

The poll discovered that just 12% of healthcare professionals felt comfortable with the companies analysing their anonymised patient data, despite 81% thinking that general analysis of such data would help enable quicker diagnosis and more effective treatment.