Offline and isolated:

How digital exclusion impacts access to healthcare for people seeking asylum in England

Our report, Offline and isolated: how digital exclusion impacts access to healthcare for people seeking asylum in Englandfinds that people seeking asylum in England are at risk of digital exclusion, creating barriers to healthcare access and social connection.

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the digitalisation of healthcare has expanded rapidly. While this has improved access to services for some, others have faced challenges getting online and using online healthcare platforms.

Our report found that digital exclusion can prevent people seeking asylum from booking appointments, ordering prescriptions, or navigating to appointments.

It can also make it harder to communicate with family and friends, which could lead to social isolation and declining physical and mental health.

We highlight the need for improvements in policy and practice to ensure that people seeking asylum can access services equitably.

A woman and man seeking asylum holding phones

Download icon Download the report (PDF)

Arrow icon View the key findings

Arrow icon View our recommendations

The research was produced in collaboration with five peer researchers with lived experience of seeking asylum. Co-producing many areas of the research, they undertook 30 in-depth interviews with people currently seeking asylum in England.

Key findings

1. Access to the internet and digital devices was important to all participants. Access enabled participants to navigate their new local areas; manage their asylum claim; access digital healthcare and connect to local services. It also meant staying in touch with friends and family.

2. Internet access varied depending on the kind of accommodation that participants stayed in. Internet provision was patchy in Home Office accommodation.

3. Many participants could not afford data, broadband or digital devices. This resulted in many participants being reliant on support workers and others to access their phones, affecting their privacy and autonomy.

4. Digital exclusion meant that many participants delayed seeking medical help.  A lack of digital access meant that participants had to rely on booking appointments in-person or look for alternatives like going directly to pharmacies, delaying seeking help, or only using A&E services.

5Some participants found that their devices were unable to download or handle the NHS app. Others could not register with a GP to access basic health services because they did not have an accepted identity document.

6. Digital exclusion caused some participants to feel lonely and isolated. This often had harmful effects on their mental health and wellbeing.

Our recommendations

We make these recommendations to stakeholders including the Home Office, NHS and local health service providers.

  1. People seeking asylum should easily be able to access and navigate online health services.

  2. People seeking asylum should have access to free and reliable internet and obtain up-to-date digital devices such as smartphones.
  3. People seeking asylum should be offered and be able to access in-person digital literacy training.
  4. People seeking asylum should be involved in developing policies and service provisions relating to the health services they will access.
  5. People seeking asylum should be supported and empowered to access healthcare in a way that suits their needs.

Read the report for detailed recommendations on how these changes can be delivered.


For more information, please contact Lois Davies at