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Discovering data standards together

Bharat Sharma, Senior Product Manager in the Standards and Interoperability team at NHS England, explains what they are doing to improve access to standards across the NHS

It’s a bit like the old philosophical question ‘If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?’:

If a standard is published but people don’t know about it, is it a standard?

A female uses a desktop computer to look at data on a screen

The Secretary of State’s Plan for digital health and social care and Data Saves Lives policy paper both clearly stated the central importance of standards in the digital transformation of our health and care system.

Standards are critical to linking up systems, getting data to flow securely, to retaining public trust and to allowing health tech innovators to change what is possible for patients and healthcare staff.

Merely publishing these things is not enough. It is clear that a standard is a standard in name only, unless it is accessible to all, understood by all, known about and actively used.


Through discovery work with Marvell Consultancy, we found several barriers to adopting standards, including being difficult to find them as they are created and published by multiple organisations.

This is why the Data Standards Directory is needed.

The Plan for digital health and social care committed to “deliver a new digital service that will allow care providers and suppliers to identify which standards related to interoperability they must conform to and where to find the documentation”.

Over a series of iterations, we changed the name from the ‘NHS Interoperability Standards Register’ to focus on what we are offering the user, rather than the back end. The new name and web address is still being tested but, so far, it appears to be helping users understand what we are here to do right now. As one remarked, “it does what it says on the tin."

Our aim? To provide a single place to find standards on recording, handling and exchanging data in health and adult social care.

Improving access and improving standards

We call our service the NHS Data Standards Directory. It launched in public beta on 1 September 2022.

Our aim? To provide a single place to find standards on recording, handling and exchanging data in health and adult social care.

At public beta right now, the main feature is to use the directory to find nationally recognised standards needed for interoperability in England, both those published and coming soon.

You can currently search by areas of interest such as care settings, topics and types of standards.

We are launching with this and looking to learn what features offer the most value to our users to define how we can grow.

As the service is tested, we look forward to providing opportunities to discover more types and forms of standards around data, interoperability and tech, along with clear links to related content. This will save time and effort by bringing together standards from many different health and care bodies into a single place with clear, consistent language and quality.

Meeting the criteria for government websites, the team has worked hard to show that everything it does and plans to do uses best practice, is user-centred and evidence-led from the start.

Next steps

As we go forward, we want to increase discoverability, increase understanding and, in the future, open more doors to co-design, allowing partners to take part in developing standards that work for everyone.  

Making standards understandable means we must use clear words and structure, which work with search engines to help discoverability and respond to feedback.

Our future direction includes creating an inclusive space where users can discover not just documentation but suggest their own ideas, share feedback around adoption, connect with people looking to use or develop standards and learn from conversations within communities across health and care.

My goal is to make standards something that everyone can understand, benefit from, and discover for themselves.

We are continuing user research to identify the requirements that suppliers must follow, and to understand how we can convey the benefits that standards offer to patients and the public better.

My goal is to make standards something that everyone can understand, benefit from, and discover for themselves, and to ensure IT systems can work securely to exchange data within the NHS and social care.

I look forward to hearing how you find using the directory via the feedback link you will see on the site, and finding out more about the language you prefer to use as you search.

You can find out more about standards and interoperability in the NHS

If you want to get in touch, would like to find out more about the directory, attend our show and tells, or participate in user research with us, please email us at [email protected].

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Last edited: 2 November 2022 10:45 am