Skip to main content
Blog

Improving access to our API developer hub

Sam Perera, API Delivery Manager at NHS Digital, explains how we are making it easiers to use our APIs.

Gone are the days of digging up car parks and laying wires to get access to the vital information the NHS holds. Our API developer hub opens a wealth of opportunity to improve access to this wide array of data, such as ambulance response times or patient information around allergies, ultimately improving the healthcare services we operate. 

Sam Perera, API Delivery Manager, is seen working from home.

What is our API platform?

Application programming interfaces (APIs) allow different apps and services to work together in various ways. They can give easy access to data and extend functionality of existing systems.

The NHS Digital API platform is a ‘front door’ for health and care APIs, primarily for the NHS in England. 

APIs are used by point-of-care applications and patient-facing applications to talk to back-end applications. 

Most of the back-end applications are owned by NHS Digital, but some are owned by third parties. Our API platform page explains this further


Why do we want to improve access?

In 2020 we did user research to find out how easy it was to integrate with NHS Digital APIs.

The results of our user research were eye-opening, with respondents scoring us at just 2/5 for the ease of integrating with our APIs.

Feedback showed that it was difficult getting set up, that the process was too complicated, and that it was simply too steep a learning curve. This resulted in people not going ahead  with integrating with our systems. 

It's crucial that access to our APIs is made simple. It was clear that without improving this ease of integration we would be promoting, rather than tackling, information siloes. We would be creating an environment for digital innovation to stagnate rather than thrive. 

This could result in services that are designed in a less informed way and therefore less likely to meet the needs of healthcare professionals and patients. For example, if a producer was looking to create a piece of software to better triage ambulance dispatches but couldn’t easily access the current data we hold on ambulance arrival times, they would encounter significant problems completing that product. This could ultimately block a potentially lifesaving innovation from helping the general public.

We set out to make integration easier, and one of the ways we are looking to achieve this is by making learning easier.


What is the developer hub?

The developer hub seeks to make learning easier. It is a ‘one stop shop’ to connect your apps to our APIs and integrate with official NHS services. There are three key areas of the developer hub that help improve access:

 

1. API catalogue

The API catalogue is a single source of truth that lists all NHS Digital APIs. This aims to make sure you can find all our API options in one place, to see what’s available but also to expose alternative options that you may not have previously considered. 

To make exploring our APIs easier, we have set up numerous filter options:

⦁    A-Z
⦁    business use
⦁    care setting
⦁    technology
⦁    API service and standard 
⦁    API status

For example, if you wanted to look at vaccination related APIs, you can see all 6 options in just two clicks. 

Filters are also bookmarkable so you could, for example, send a colleague a link to all our MESH APIs. 

You can access the API Catalogue on the NHS Digital website.

 

2. Individual API specifications

Once you have found an API you are interested in, simply click into it to see the API specification. Our API specifications make learning about each API easier. Here you will find content around that specific API, with information including:

⦁    an overview, written in plain English
⦁    who can use this API
⦁    related APIs
⦁    API status and roadmap
⦁    service level
⦁    technology
⦁    network access
⦁    security and authorisation
⦁    environments and testing
⦁    onboarding
⦁    endpoints

This aims to give you the information you need when deciding which of our APIs you want to
integrate with, and how to get started doing so.

 

3. Documentation, guides and tutorials

We also provide a range of other resources, including but not limited to:

⦁    tutorials and open-access sandboxes
⦁    onboarding processes for APIs
⦁    specific challenge related developer guides
⦁    how we handle security and authorisation
⦁    glossary of developer terms


Accessibility

We are following the GDS service standard to make sure everyone can use the service

Accessibility is at the core of every feature we produce and is something we are continually looking to improve and iterate upon. This includes doing user testing with developers with accessibility needs, for example dyslexia, and improving our service to ensure those needs are considered and met.


Try it now

Have a look through the API catalogue and go to an API of your choice (the PDS FHIR API is a good example) and try the API out immediately by clicking the ‘Try this API’ link.  Give it a call and see what you get back! You might be surprised.



What's next? Get involved

Despite the positive progress there is plenty more to be done, and we’re actively iterating on the service to move our score to a 4+. 

You can see our product backlog  to comment on features, upvote features, and suggest new features. Users’ views are critical to us getting our service right, so help us make integration easier by telling us what you want to see through the backlog, or by contacting us by emailing api.management@nhs.net  to participate in a user research session. 

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.


Author

Last edited: 17 May 2022 1:31 pm