The energy and enthusiasm at last week’s NHS Innovation Expo was striking – lots of people wanting to exploit the potential of better digital and technology delivery to improve services to patients, to support new ways of providing care, to help save time and money to be spent on those most in need.  With the NHS handling over 1 million patients every 36 hours, there is a real opportunity to improve people’s lives.

How are we doing when it comes to our digital services? 49% of UK adults access health information online and NHS Choices receives about 27 million unique visits every month.  But dig deeper and you find information and services are often not joined up across a host of – around 3000 – NHS sites, many services could be improved and many things can’t be done online at all, such as (universally) registering with a GP.  The last NHS patient survey found only 10.1% of patients ordering repeat prescriptions online and only 6.4% booking GP appointments. With 86% of adults using the internet, we could do a lot more to provide information and services that are simpler, clearer, better.

The National Information Board – which sets technology strategy for health and care– has recognised this, putting an improved central online offer, NHS.UK, at the heart of its plans for better patient facing services. If there’s one challenge above all – we need to deliver excellent online services by designing them for the people who use them rather than around the way we are structured.  Digital services can cross organisation boundaries – whether local or national or health or social care. Jeremy Hunt has talked about a “patient-centric” and “more human” system.  We should certainly be that online.

That’s where we come in.  NHS England and the Department of Health have formed a small cross-system team to develop the vision for NHS.UK.  It includes expertise from our own organisations, from the NHS Choices team at the Health and Social Care Information Centre, as well as people who have delivered excellent digital services in the Government Digital Service and elsewhere.  We’ve set up on the top floor of Wellington House in Waterloo.

Over the next 12 weeks…

We will be mapping out how people find dealing with the health and care system in a number of condition areas.  We’ll be talking to them and to front line staff about their needs.  And we will be using that to identify opportunities for improved online information and services.  We will prototype possible solutions and develop them further based on feedback from users.

We’ll be pulling together a detailed plan for how we could realise those prototypes – and the next phase of NHS.UK overall – in practice.

And we’ll set a plan on standards and guidance to help other teams to build great digital services on NHS.UK.

A 12 week project isn’t going to solve all the digital delivery challenges facing the health and care system.  This is about setting a clear vision for NHS.UK, with prototypes that demonstrate the opportunities and a plan that gets us to the next stage.  It’s also – to be frank – about increasing understanding of and confidence in a more “digital”, more agile, more user led approach in health and care.  After the 12 weeks, we will be doing more work to learn and consult.

In how we’ve set up, we’ve tried to learn lessons from digital transformation projects across health and care and other public services.  Common themes are – a team that works across different organisational silos and includes real expertise in digital delivery, policy and health and social care; an approach that is relentlessly led by user needs, both ‘end-users’ and health professionals, not by current constraints; the need to involve clinical experts throughout; and a clear governance structure and senior leadership.

One thing we’ve also learned over the last few weeks is just how many people are committed to improving digital health and care and want to help.  That’s why we’ll be communicating about the project in the open, learning from colleagues and sharing what we’re finding.  We’ll be speaking with lots of people, we’ll have a dedicated blog (you’re on it!) and we’ll be inviting a number of people to our team show and tells. We’ll also be tweeting using the hashtag #NHSalpha.

Please do wish us luck, and feel free to follow our work and share your own learnings – either by commenting below or emailing us.

Helen Rowntree
Head of Digital Services, NHS England

Adam Bye
Deputy Director (Digital), Department of Health



  1. Comment from Alan Grey

    You mention a clear governance structure and leadership, but I really don’t understand who owns the content on NHS.UK. The legal notices point to the Department of Health NHS choices team, which does not exist. You may think this is a constraint, but this sort of muddled thinking led to NHS England not being given the legal powers to do it’s job. We need the boring legal stuff to be clearer, simpler and better as well.

  2. Hi

    An excellent initiative and great to see so much energy. Here at Skyscape we ready to provide the secure N3 connected cloud infrastructure you’ll need for these new initiatives. We already provide the cloud hosting for the Genomes programme.

  3. would it be possible to come and visit some time in the next few weeks to see how you’re doing things and talk about the work you’re setting out to do? It is great to see the work for NHS.UK starting off on such a positive and driven format and I’d love to be able to volunteer another pair of eyes, ears and hands.

  4. Comment from Twoshedzz

    Good Luck Helen!
    A rebirth of has been a long time coming, so I’m looking forward to seeing what emerges. Alpha phase can be a lot of fun but also a real challenge to keep focused, especially something of this scale.

  5. Comment from Adam Bye

    Thank you for all your supportive comments so far, both here and on social media. Andy, please do drop us an email at the address above, setting out what you’ve got in mind (we may of course have to ration interest depending on how much we get!). Alan, agree we should avoid muddle as much as we can – we’re also pointing out your observation to the Choices team.

  6. Comment from Kate Green

    Have you got any patients in your design team / user group to help define content and lots of them doing user testing?

  7. Suggest including GOV.UK, and (CQC) Public Involvement Forum in your conversations?

  8. Comment from Adam Bye

    Thank you Mark and Kate. We very much agree on the importance of involving patients throughout this work – including through existing forums – and of extensive user testing. We intend to do both. We’ve also been working closely with the GDS team (and indeed have some of their alumni with us).

  9. I strongly feel there is a lot of opportunity for the NHS to leverage digital as a means of driving awareness of initiatives, at a local and national level, that in turn will drive efficiency, and most importantly save lives.

  10. Hi Adam,

    Good to see you at NHSExpo recently.

    We’re very interested and encouraged by your DH/NHS UX plans and keen to see how to play it into our RippleOSI platform development. FYI our website is at

    We are building on other Clinical UI Pattern work we have done before..
    We’re using as our prototyping tool and then coding the preferred UX.
    You can see the latest version of our IDCR demonstrator here

    FYI some great work out of the US based on a challenge fund
    The NHS Common User Interface work was very good in its own right, but component based , with no regard to an overarching UI framework.
    Both great pieces of work but impact unfortunately limited as 1) not proven in a reference application & 2) not open sourced

    So on healthcare IT usability is acknowledged to need much improvement. Done properly high quality UX work could be transformative in the NHS..
    Yet that demands that the outputs are coded and open sourced..or I fear are likely to stay on a shelf.

    Hopefully we can find some good common ground to effectively collaborate on this..

    thanks again,


    Dr. Tony Shannon
    Director, Ripple Community

  11. Comment from Tony

    Very interesting work for me given my historical exposure to summary care record and healthspace. I saw first hand the challenges of getting information from primary to acute care, the varying technology and social challenges.
    The one digital eureka point for me was involving users up front. I have no doubt it made our current service a success and also see the same trend when I have the luxury of seeing how other countries have built their healthcare related digital services.
    Keep up the good work!

  12. Comment from Megan

    Hi, how can I subscribe to this blog so I get alerted when a new one is published please? Thanks!

  13. Good to see this central initiative resurrected. There’s a place for any willing provider, but there is also a need to centralise some systems, such a portals. As a service user I do not want an account for every NHS provider I come into contact with.

  14. […] at the event yesterday was not from a start-up. Well not exactly. He was a developer working on the NHS’s Project Alpha. This rather sci-fi title is the name for a programme aimed at prototyping new health applications. […]

  15. Comment from Shaun

    I am very new to the NHS.UK ALPHA project, and very interested to learn more as this project goes forward. I work as a support worker for a hospice, and signpost many, many people to services and support which for some are very well known in the community, and yet a large number of people who need support, are not aware of these support services., many of which are provided by local the NHS trust, or County Council. Therefore, anything which can engage people with the right service at the right time is vital to limiting time time wasting, tiresome searching, and ultimately, a withdrawal from accessing services due to confusion or lethargy.
    One issue I have noticed just from a cursory trial of the ALPHA service, becomes apparent when you reach 3rd party site; it didn’t contain any specific links or information as implied from the ALPHA link, and occasionally would, I have no doubt, discourage further inquiry/interrogation by the user.
    I would love to be included in publicity of the ALPHA service, as it has a very significant bearing on how I may signpost people in the future to access those services which they seek, or maybe, don’t even realise they seek.

    • Comment from Emily Chaplin

      Hi Shaun, thanks for getting in contact and for your enthusiasm about the project and our aims. I’ve sent you an email about third party links as hope you can point me to the specific pages so that I can better understand and give your feedback to my colleagues. This blog post is from 2015 and we’ve done lots since. Our project, NHS.UK, is now building some of those ideas you saw in alpha (and others) so that they work in practice and can be used and tested by the public. You can find out more about what we do by signing up for email updates on our blog homepage – I hope you’ll stay in contact. Best wishes, Emily (NHS.UK Communications Lead)


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