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Building great digital services during a crisis

Lucy Ha, Product and Delivery Management Graduate, explains how the NHS digital service manual is helping organisations quickly build accessible, consistent digital products and services needed to respond to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Just 10 days before lockdown began in March 2020, I joined the NHS Digital service manual team as a Product and Delivery Management Graduate. I had an expectation that I would only be working on the NHS digital service manual, with the opportunity to take the time to learn about it and develop my skills.

Lucy Ha sitting in front of her computer at home.

Instead, I was thrown in at the deep end and tasked with helping to design crucial digital services to help with the COVID-19 response, such as the coronavirus antigen testing service for the public on the NHS website.

Delivering projects at a pace I’m not used to and working with teams I hadn’t known for very long has been both challenging and rewarding. Being a product manager, and as someone new to building these services, the service manual was a crucial resource to help me understand all the tools the team uses to build consistent and accessible services.

The pandemic was not on a roadmap. We could not plan for resources, anticipate user needs or have the privilege of time to plan and build products and services in response to it.

What is it?

The NHS digital service manual contains the building blocks to build a consistent, accessible and inclusive digital service. It is for everyone making digital products and services in the NHS.

The service manual contains guidance on content and accessibility and a catalogue of components with open source code. All patterns and components have been researched and user-tested and there is guidance on best practice for making a service accessible from the very beginning.

Building digital services quickly

The pandemic was not on a roadmap. We could not plan for resources, anticipate user needs or have the privilege of time to plan and build products and services in response to it. User needs, as well as stakeholder requirements, have been rapidly evolving as the days, even hours, pass by.

Both teams within NHS Digital and organisations in the wider health and social care sector have been using the service manual to quickly build and test services in response to the evolving needs of their users during the coronavirus pandemic.

A few of the many examples include:

  • Get an isolation note service - built by NHS Digital in just 10 days as an alternative to a GP fit note so people can prove they are self-isolating
  • Get a coronavirus test – built by NHS Digital in approximately four weeks to allow the public to apply for a coronavirus test
  • NHS book a virtual visit - built by MadeTech in only 48 hours to facilitate booking and organising video calls between patients and loved ones when they could not visit in person
  • Compassion in Dying - went live with an alpha website six months earlier than planned. They are a small charity that helps people prepare for end of life, including new information on decisions around coronavirus treatment

The projects I have been involved with have been delivered at pace but have always complied with the design principles. I was able to see the benefit of using prototypes, built quickly using the prototype kit, to test the service with users. I also had the opportunity to be involved with some of the user research interviews which helped me understand the importance of good content design and good interaction design.

Playing a part in the response to the coronavirus pandemic has enabled me to see first-hand some of the amazing work that has been produced in such short periods of time. It has made me incredibly proud to work for NHS Digital.

Be part of our community

The NHS digital service manual is a resource for everyone making digital services in health and care, so anyone using our design principles and guidance can propose new features, comment and get involved in moving us forward.

During the coronavirus pandemic the service manual has been used on many new services that have had a lot of research, testing and feedback. If you have used the service manual to build new products or services, we would love to hear how you found it and what your research and testing showed.

To get involved, please:

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Last edited: 22 December 2021 3:10 pm