NHS England has detailed its new social media plan, teaching nurses across the country how using online platforms can improve health, as part of one of NHS Digital’s Widening Digital Participation projects.

In an initial pilot that used Facebook to promote breast screening, one area saw a 12.9% increase in the take up of screening services and moved from 58th in the country for uptake to 11th.

As a result of the success, the same techniques are now being harnessed elsewhere in the country to encourage patients to go for other cancer screening tests.

NHS Digital has confirmed that around 350 General Practice nurses and other practice staff have so far been trained in adopting technology to become Digital Health Champions, including learning how social media can help promote practice services.

Techniques include making Facebook pages to provide information and reduce anxiety about breast examinations, as well as posting information about screening on community groups and the Facebook Messenger service, enabling women to easily make appointments and ask questions about the screening process.

The process has shown tangible increases in uptake, with attendances for first time appointments at the North Midlands Breast Screening Service increasing by an average of 12.9% between three-year screening cycles from 2014 to 2018.

NHS Digital says that it is “incredibly proud” to have been able to support the innovative model, with Nicola Gill, director of the WDP Programme explaining that “Going to where people go every day, in this case a Facebook community group, allows us to connect and engage with people in a way that’s familiar and convenient for them. Pioneering models of health prevention and management like this are making a real difference in improving health outcomes for excluded communities.”

The project continues to develop, confirmed NHS Digital, with the latest innovation being a link-up with Lancaster University to develop an AI chatbot which would assist staff in answering queries sent via Messenger.