NHS login – improving access to digital health and care services

By Adam Lewis. 31 October 2018

An example of the process of an NHS login

At the end of September, the NHS launched a private beta for the hugely exciting NHS App. To access the App, we also launched a private beta for the new NHS login service (it’ll be available to the public in 2019). NHS login provides a way for people in England to prove who they are once, and then use a single login for digital health and care services in England, across a range of apps and websites on desktop or mobile.

We already have over 80 expressions of interest from digital health services that want to use the NHS login. These include locally developed NHS portals, specialist app providers and even whole health regions. So, we thought this was a useful opportunity to look at the bigger picture and explain why an NHS login is a game-changer in its own right.

The challenge

At the moment, patients usually have to prove who they are (often in different ways) to each NHS website or app they interact with. They’re forced to remember different logins and re-enter similar information multiple times. This is difficult when you’re managing your own health and care, but if you’re caring for others as well it makes life significantly more challenging.

This is the result of the NHS being a collection of separate organisations and specialist service providers that do not always work in the most harmonious of ways. It is frustrating and confusing for the public, which results in adoption barriers, lower uptake of innovative tools and a feeling of disempowerment.

Not only this, but the burden of checking ID and setting up users’ accounts currently sits squarely on the shoulders of the NHS front line.

The opportunity

Of course, there is a better way.

Our research has found that patients and carers clearly want (and expect) to adopt digital tools and services as part of managing their own care. They also perceive the NHS as a single entity and find it confusing when it doesn’t behave like one.

By delivering a single way to prove who you are and then login across all care settings, we can deliver more joined-up care. It’s a small but significant step forward that will make a real difference.

But solving this ‘classic’ identity problem is not the end-game at all. In a very real sense, identity is an important part of enabling users to take a more active role in their health and care.

With a single NHS login in place, digital transactions can become digital conversations; a two-way dialogue. People will be able to more easily communicate important decisions to the NHS, such as who they want to be able to act on their behalf or, potentially, what health information they want to share, when and with whom.

In return, the NHS will be able to use digital tools more effectively to communicate with patients (and know that they have received the communication!), rather than relying on a postal system that costs the NHS millions of pounds a year.

An NHS login will enable us to connect people to any number of healthcare apps, websites and records and to connect patients with health and care workers digitally too. Next time a revolutionary new digital service is developed (such as the NHS App) it can be made available to potentially millions of patients in one go via the service. This will result in efficiencies for patients, carers and care providers – a rare win-win-win!

How it will work

This is potentially a long journey, but the first big change is that people will be able to prove who they are online without the need to visit the NHS front line (although they’ll be able to do so via the GP online services initiative if they need to).

All we need is enough information to link a person to their existing health and care information.

To do this, people will submit a picture of a photo identity document, such as a driving license, along with their name, postcode and date of birth. They’ll also be asked to submit a short video of themselves. The video is key, as it enables us to confirm it really is the person at the end of the internet connection, and not someone pretending to be them.

Once the information has been checked, people will be able to sign in to healthcare apps and websites that use the NHS login. We’re also finding a way for people to use their GOV.UK Verify account to access NHS websites and apps if they want to.

The future is bright

The team have a lot to do in the next few months, but it’s difficult not to be optimistic when the potential to make a real difference to the digital landscape is tantalisingly close.

If you’ve got any feedback on this blog, or if there's any specific aspect of our work you’d like us to cover next time, please email us at nhslogin@nhs.net