Responses to the consultation on the Department of Health’s information strategy show widespread concern that an increasing use of technology could lead to greater inequalities in access to healthcare.

The DH published a summary of responses to the much-delayed “information revolution” strategy today, as it announced a new phase in the NHS Future Forum listening exercise.

The document is drawn from 742 responses to a document setting out the broad principles for the department’s information policy. Responses were submitted  between October 2010 and January this year.

However the strategy, which was originally expected to be published last spring, was subjected to repeated delays and is now scheduled for a winter 2011 release.

In the summary released today, the largest “emerging theme” identified by respondents was “ensuring that the information revolution benefits everyone and does not increase inequalities”.

The British Medical Association said it was important that increasing use of online services did not “disenfranchise” people without internet access.  “It is often the case that those with the greatest health needs are those with the least access to up-to-date technology and so increased IT use can deepen inequalities,” the BMA warned.

National Voices, whose chief executive Jeremy Taylor will chair the Future Forum’s further work on information, said it was a “key challenge” to ensure that the most vulnerable and “least health literate” patients were supported to make sense of information and act on it.

An impact assessment released alongside the consultation responses said groups such as older people, disabled people, homeless people and those in prison were most at risk of “digital exclusion”.

Several responses stressed that infrastructure in the health sector was not adequate to secure the benefits of an information revolution, and that “financial investment” would be needed.

Concerns over equalities were voiced 2,720 times by respondents, ahead of using information for improved outcomes and the need for social care and healthcare information to be to be linked.

The consultation response document also shows that the charities were the most enthusiastic respondents ,with the voluntary sector contributing  102 submissions. The next largest categories were responses from academic and professional institutions at 83, and healthcare providers at 63.

A total of 28 responses came from strategic health authorities.