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Making it easier to connect to our platforms and services

Tony Heap, Lead Product Owner for API Management at NHS Digital, explains how our new API Platform will create more opportunities to improve digital health and care services

We know that a diverse and innovative digital health sector brings benefits for all and we also know we can’t create this on our own.

In API Management, with our API first approach, we are working with developers, technology suppliers and partners to make it easier to connect to our platforms and services. By building APIs for our national services and using open standards, our aim is to foster a healthcare software marketplace where innovation can thrive.

2 puzzle pieces fitting together

The challenge

To achieve this, we need to get the foundations right, to make sure the basics are in place so that we can build the right thing.

Creating strong foundations starts with our users. We’ve been listening to healthcare software developers to understand the integration challenges they face. Whether that’s the struggle to find documentation, or to access test environments, or the complexity of our onboarding process. Simply put, they’ve told us that integrating with our APIs is hard work.

Also, when we first built the Spine (the IT infrastructure that joins over 23,000 systems and 21,000 organisations across England), we used the latest open standards at the time: HL7 V3, SOAP and XML. But 15 years on, the world has changed, the internet is king, APIs are RESTful and cloud-hosted, and security is generally handled using OAuth 2.0 and Open ID Connect. We have to adapt to this new world.

Our mission

We’re responding. We know we need to improve the way we deliver our APIs, so we’ve set ourselves a clear mission:

Make integration easier 

That means making integration easier for everyone who wants to connect to our platforms and services, from large, well-established software houses to small start-ups. Whether you’re already using our APIs, or want to connect for the very first time, we’re here to listen to you and make that journey easier and faster.

We know that’s a big ask. And we’re not alone in tackling it, working with colleagues across NHS Digital to define a clearer route to achieving the legal and clinical compliance that requests for full access require.

And in API Management, we’ve started the journey to achieving this, we are:

  1. Building an API platform - a one-stop shop for all our APIs, old and new.
  2. Building a developer portal - a place where developers can come to learn about our APIs, try them out and register for full access.
  3. Building an exemplar API - the Personal Demographics Service (PDS) FHIR API.
  4. Migrating our other APIs to the platform, over time.
  5. Iterating the new platform based on your feedback.

We’re using the latest open standards to build our new APIs – REST, FHIR, OAuth 2.0 and Open ID Connect. We’re hosting them in the cloud and internet-facing. We’re making them available to healthcare workers, of course – using NHS Identity for security. But we’re also opening up some of our APIs for citizens to access – using NHS login. For example, citizens will be able to use a secure app to update their own contact details in the PDS instead of having to call their GP.

These are exciting times!

Progress and plans

Our new API platform is already available. The PDS FHIR API is also in beta. You’ll find it listed, alongside all our other APIs, old and new, in the API catalogue.

We have started migrating our other APIs to the new platform. Currently in alpha are the Electronic Prescription Service FHIR API, the Spine Directory Service FHIR API and the Reasonable Adjustments FHIR API.

We have more to do. There are many other APIs to migrate, and we’re also working on improving the API platform, with better documentation, better help and support, an improved onboarding process and more.

Get involved

To get this right, we need feedback from software developers and end users and to act on it. Taking inspiration from the GDS agile delivery process, we are listening in a number of ways:

  • you can suggest, comment or vote on APIs and platform features using our interactive product backlog
  • you can tell us what you think of our documentation using the feedback widget that appears on most of our pages in the developer hub
  • you can participate in one-to-one user testing sessions by joining the alpha or beta programmes for our new APIs
  • you can contact us with any other thoughts or ideas

So, get involved. As I said at the beginning, we can’t do this alone, but with your help we can build the right thing.

Interested in working at NHS Digital? Search our latest job opportunities.

Related subjects

Our ‘API-first’ approach is making it easier for developers, suppliers and partners to connect to our platforms and services. Brian Diggle, Technical Architect at NHS Digital, gives a behind-the-scenes look at how this approach works in practice.
Dr Munish Jokhani, Assurance Lead for API Management at NHS Digital explains how we retire our APIs and how developers can get involved in the process.


Last edited: 22 December 2021 4:07 pm