Over the past few months, a small team of healthcare and digital specialists have been working together to design the future of a new digital health and care service – NHS.UK.

NHS.UK will better connect patients to the information and services they need, reduce pressure on healthcare services, improve efficiency and increase quality for all.

I’m delighted to say NHS.UK has just passed its alpha digital service standard assessment. This means we’ve got the go ahead to deliver a beta NHS.UK service. We will move beyond prototypes to digital services that are robust enough to be used by the public.

These won’t be finished products. They will be tested and will evolve based on users’ feedback. There won’t be a “big bang” launch. We will release NHS.UK in small chunks over the coming months.

Putting users first

The user is at the heart of NHS.UK’s development. Our starting point was to understand what patients, carers and front-line staff wanted from a digital health and care service.

NHSUK_UserResearchInfographic_1000

From this initial research, we’ve learnt that:

NHS.UK is our opportunity to make it simpler for people to find the information they need, understand their options and, most important of all, take action.

Research is critical

Research is critical, even if you think you already know the answers. After 25 years working in the NHS, I am not surprised by our research findings. They make absolute sense. But all too often we see initiatives in the NHS start with the best intent: people think they know how to solve a problem, they work tirelessly to try to make it succeed, but it falls short. Very often these ‘almost initiatives’ have the same root cause: not truly understanding the problem they were trying to solve and leaping to a seemingly logical conclusion, without testing it first.

As long as NHS.UK continues to be guided by users, and doesn’t fall into the trap of thinking we know what’s needed, we have the chance to build a brilliant service. A service that meets the needs of users, changes behaviours and frees up healthcare professionals to focus on what they do best: care for and treat patients.

DiabetesPlannerTake a look at out our diabetes planner prototype, to see what this service might look like.

The planner is just a prototype but when we put it into the hands of diabetes patients, their response was immediate, unanimous and very clear: “When can I have it?”

Building on the success of NHS Choices

In June 2015, the National Information Board set out our ambition that “NHS Choices will be transformed into a multi-channel platform for the whole health and care system”.

I am immensely proud to have spent three years as NHS Choices’ Programme Director. NHS Choices puts trusted, accurate health information into the hands of patients. Over its lifetime, it has:
● become one of the largest health information services in the world;
● given patients the tools to compare and choose the right health and care providers for them;
● pioneered the use of APIs to syndicate content and service data to more than 600 other services.

NHS Choices received almost 54 million visits last month alone.

However, NHS Choices is 9 years old. It was launched in 2007 at the time of the first iPhone, a time when people predominantly used desktop computers hardwired into the internet. Our daily lives have transformed since then and it’s no surprise that people’s needs have changed too, along with their understanding, use of and appetite for digital.

NHS.UK will build on the successes of NHS Choices to deliver the next generation of digital services for the NHS. The transition from NHS Choices will be seamless. Links to the existing website and the syndication APIs will continue to work.

Growing our team and partnerships

The NHS.UK team will work closely with NHS Choices and in partnership across organisational boundaries. As my colleague James Hawkins, Executive Director at the newly named NHS Digital, said this week “It’s time to collaborate, integrate and innovate”. Getting NHS.UK to beta by 2017 will be a key priority of NHS Digital.

Deep, rewarding, proper ‘get it done’ partnership takes time. People don’t always agree and trust takes time to build. But with patience, tenacity and people who share incredible expertise and a relentless desire to transform health and care, partnership grows. To deliver NHS.UK, we’ll need to grow our team and partnerships over the coming months.

As our team scales up, one of the key roles will be the Programme Director, who will lead NHS.UK through this change. We’re recruiting for this position now.

We expect to advertise several other exciting roles soon, including user research, content design, product management, delivery management, design and development. We’re keen to hear from people who want to be part of the team. Follow our blog for details about new opportunities to work with us.

We are also keen to hear from clinicians and other professionals working in the NHS who may be interested in our work.

As always, please get in touch and give us your feedback.

Deborah El-Sayed is Director of Digital and Multi Channel Development at NHS England and Head of Digital Urgent and Emergency Care. She is the Senior Responsible Officer for NHS.UK and NHS Choices.

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