Right from the start of this NHS.UK project, we have focussed on user needs, worked in an agile way and have been as open as we can. In short, we try to follow the ideals of the Government Digital Service Digital by Default Service Standard. Easier said than done.

On 12 April, the NHS.UK alpha team took part in a service assessment where our work was tested against the 18 points of the Service Standard. When you have been working on something for months, it can be daunting to be reviewed, but much like having a ‘fresh pair of eyes’ on something – the external feedback is invaluable.

The scope of NHS.UK is broad and not wholly transactional, so the assessment panel were asked to review our approach and consider our suitability to do the following.

  • Work towards NHS.UK beta
  • Deliver an alpha for a new digital service, Register with a GP
  • Devise an alpha set of digital standards for health and care

The assessment itself was more a conversation than a test. It’s also very much a team sport. We prepped examples and relevant details for the 18 points, but avoided running mock assessments as you can’t really guess what the panel is going to ask. We went in, told our story and demoed our prototypes. Then we discussed our efforts to meet the standard points and, importantly, the challenges we faced along the way.

So, how did we do? Here’s the report we received from the assessment panel.

Result of service assessment

After consideration the assessment panel has concluded the NHS.UK alpha service is on track to meet the Digital Service Standard at this early stage of development.

Reasons

This was an unusual assessment for the panel because we were primarily being asked to validate an approach, and a vision of what a future NHS.UK service might look like, rather than a service. Given that, we felt that the team had formed well, adopted excellent working practices, identified good pilot projects to test their approach, and are well placed to take their findings forward to the next stage.

The team have taken an exemplary approach to using technology during alpha, using the GOV.UK prototyping tools to build a variety of different prototypes to better understand user needs, prioritising features which users can see and react to, and quickly iterating based on what the team learnt from users.

The way in which user research has been integrated into the project team is extremely positive, reflected by the rigour of documenting user needs and the description of lab testing sessions being observed by up to eight team members who are all encouraged to contribute to a single Google doc that the researcher then synthesises and shares back to the team in a single playback session. We were left in little doubt that the team has established an excellent way of working together, resulting in a set of prototypes that reflect real user needs.

It’s clear that a user-centred approach to the design of the service has been adopted throughout. The team made full use of existing patterns and design assets, which allowed them to focus on the bigger design challenges.

The breadth of users involved and the variety of user research methodologies covered is impressive. The content of the prototype is well designed as a result, and the language is clear and simple, reflecting the way users talk about their condition.

Recommendations

Because of the unusual nature of the assessment, effectively being asked to assess building capability and approach, we wouldn’t expect to see the team return for a future assessment of what was presented to us at the alpha assessment in its current form. Instead we would expect to be assessing the various services and platform components that will make up NHS.UK individually.

The team have already been discussing with GOV.UK Verify, GPaaS and other teams at GDS how platforms may be used during beta, but it was hard to assess due to the apparently unconstrained scope of the beta. Of particular concern for beta will be how contact details, health records and other personal information will be kept safe and secure, and users will trust their details are being kept confidential in what appears to be a broad, holistic service.

The service manager confirmed that the key period of developing the Alpha work being presented was between August – November 2015. This prompts the question, what has been happening from November until now? Although all the work presented met the required GDS standard, there is a question mark over the rigour of how the overall project scope is being managed, going into beta.

Overview of Digital Service Standard Criteria

The following table shows the result for each of the 18 criteria with the assessment panels agreed result.

Criteria Result Criteria Result
1 Yes 10 Yes
2 Yes 11 Yes
3 Yes 12 Yes
4 Yes 13 Yes
5 Yes 14 Yes
6 Yes 15 Yes
7 Yes 16 Yes
8 Yes 17 Yes
9 Yes 18 Yes

Summary

The assessment panel wish you the best of luck as you develop the proposition for NHS.UK and the various services supporting it. Congratulations on the progress you have made to date in building your team, capability and vision.

Challenges ahead

It is great for us as a team to receive a report like this and hear that we’re on the right track.

And the challenges the panel raised are fair too.

1. What’s been happening between November and now?

NHS.UK has a big scope, so we’ve been continuing to explore, build, test and iterate in new areas such as Symptoms and GP look-up. We’ve also been busy preparing our plans for the beta phase and securing the funding to continue. There’s a lot to do, but we have to make sure we scale sensibly and build on the culture and approach which has served us well so far.

Also, as part of our original alpha plan we built in a pre-beta engagement phase so we could talk to teams who have responsibility for other digital services such as Citizen ID, Hospital Booking and NHS 111 which recently passed a service assessment too! We’ve also been working closely with NHS Choices which will soon be linking some of their users through to our content so we can test it. Building these relationships is vital to delivering NHS.UK and helps us join things up. It’s also been great to pick the brains of these teams and the work we’ve done is all the better for it.

2. How is the overall project scope being managed into beta?

Our vision for NHS.UK is to better connect people to the health and care information and services they need. Currently, we are in the process of finalising our roadmap for beta and prioritising the work ahead. This is a huge task and as a team, we appreciate the magnitude of the challenge.

As always, we’ll keep you posted on our progress through the blog. In the meantime, well done NHS.UK team on a brilliant alpha adventure and thank you to the many, many people who have helped us along the way. See you in beta.

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