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NHS login: Coping with the large-scale adoption of digital health services

Richard McStay, Lead Delivery Manager, explains how the NHS login team is making it easier for more people to register. 

Graphic demonstrating that you can access the NHS login via the website or an app.

We’ll always remember 2020 as a time we all had to do things differently. Its full impact on society has not yet been fully played out – but it’s clear that one of the big changes is in health technology.

The coronavirus crisis has seen the mass adoption of alternative, digital ways of accessing health and care services to reduce the number of people physically accessing buildings and meeting people face-to-face.

During the pandemic, apps are opening doors for people to manage their own care. NHS login is helping to make this possible by providing a simple, secure way for users to identify themselves and link to their healthcare record using their NHS number.  

This gives users a convenient way of accessing multiple apps wherever they see the NHS login button. When they register with NHS login, they only need to verify their identity once and remember just one password to perform some of their healthcare tasks digitally. 

Although it’s simple and secure for users to access digital services with their NHS login, registering for an NHS login account and proving their identity has not always been easy for the user.  

Accessing sensitive information in a medical record requires a ‘high-level’ of identity verification. This means users must prove their identity by either providing a photo ID and a video recording of themselves or their online registration details from their GP practice. This has been a barrier for many users.  

We are working to improve the success rate of identity verifications and registrations by adding new features and implementing a new registration process with a cleaner design and faster response times. 

We’ve introduced a new process that allows applicants to check their photo ID in advance. In a similar way to how people can make sure their passport photographs are acceptable, users can use the NHS login precheck service to make sure their photo ID meets the necessary criteria, to help reduce the number of failed applications. 

Where users do experience problems, we have also set up a new help centre, built into the system, to guide people through the application process and to answer any questions they might have before submitting. Users can use this help centre to raise enquiries with our National Service Desk, who use well-developed processes for further assistance. 

This will help to reduce the number of failed applications, making the process much quicker for many people. 

Accessing a medical record requires a high level of identity-proving, but this high level is not necessary for all digital healthcare services. 


For example, the NHS App offers some information-only services, which allows patients to check symptoms or view updates to current healthcare information. This doesn’t require access to their medical records, so we’ve introduced a ‘medium-level’ verification process that makes setting up an NHS login even faster, as all that is required is their contact details and NHS number. 

This gives users an easier journey to access only what they need. They have the option to upgrade to full access, including their medical records, in the future. 

There are now over 1.5m verified users of NHS login giving them a convenient, secure way to access digital healthcare. This number is rising rapidly as more services use NHS login.

Currently there are 20 services that have integrated with NHS login, with several more applying to integrate or test their service in our sandpit environment. 

Our new partner onboarding toolkit has made the process of connecting to us even smoother and our doors are open to innovative applications that can remove the burden of frontline pressure by offering safe and secure digital healthcare alternatives. 

Related subjects

  • Rebecca Jarratt, lead delivery manager for NHS login partner onboarding, explains how the NHS login team worked with organisations to develop a self-service toolkit that supports them to adopt NHS login – while ensuring the team maintains control over the integration process.
  • Lead user researcher for NHS login (Citizen Identity) and Personal Health Records Rochelle Gold explains how user research has influenced the design of a single way to allow people to use one set of details to log into all their digital health services.
  • How do we give the public secure access to their healthcare data and NHS services? Lead Delivery Manager Richard McStay talks about NHS login and the NHS Digital Citizen Identity team’s work to ensure people can prove their identity when signing up for online services.

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Richard McStay

Richard is a Lead Delivery Manager for the NHS login programme at NHS Digital.

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Last edited: 4 November 2020 10:58 am