Skip to main content

API platform

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

Overview

The API platform as a front door

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. 

The platform provides a consistent experience for API consumers and API producers that makes integration easier and supports NHS England's Open API policy.


Components

API platform components

The API platform has three components:

  • the API gateway 

  • the developer hub (including digital onboarding)

  • the API producer zone

API Gateway

The API gateway is the runtime component of the API platform, and includes: 

  • API proxies – the front door for each API, handling security and rate limiting 

  • an authorisation server – this authenticates and authorises the calling application and end user, and is integrated with NHS Care Identity Service 2 and NHS login 

  • logging, monitoring and alerting – tools to keep the platform healthy 

Developer hub (including digital onboarding)

The NHS Digital developer hub

The developer hub is for API consumers - people building front-end applications that consume APIs. It's not just for programmers and architects – it's also for product owners, business analysts, delivery leads, testers, CTOs and entrepreneurs.

It includes:

  • getting started information, including tutorials

  • a searchable API catalogue

  • detailed API specifications

  • self-service access to test environments

  • a digital onboarding service for access to production

  • help and support

Some of the features require you to create an NHS Digital developer account.

API producer zone

The API producer zone (account required) is for API producers - people building back-end applications that expose APIs, including:

  • technical and non-technical people
  • NHS Digital and third party people

It includes:

  • self-service API producer guidance, both technical and process
  • technical support
  • non-technical support
  • lightweight governance - to ensure APIs are built to a consistent quality

Currently, you need an NHS Digital Confluence account to access the API producer zone. To get access, see getting started.


Service level

The API platform is a platinum service, meaning:

  • it is available and supported 24 x 7 x 365
  • it has a guaranteed availability of 99.9%, although actual availability is much higher - for example in 2021 it was 99.995%

Benefits

The API platform is part of our mission to make integration easier, and provides benefits for both API consumers and API producers.

It has been described as ‘exemplary’ by the Government Digital Service.

Benefits for API consumers

For API consumers, the API platform provides: 

  • a consistent, modern experience using open standards such as RESTFHIR and OAuth 2.0 

  • self-service and immediate access to test environments

  • quicker and easier access to production using our digital onboarding service 

  • access from the internet, as well as HSCN 

  • documentation that is clear, consistent and comprehensive, using OAS for API specifications

  • a single point of contact for help and support when you’re stuck

In surveys, 100% of API consumers have rated the API platform as either ‘easy’ or ‘very easy’ to use overall (as of February 2022).

Benefits for API producers

For API producers, the API platform provides: 

  • quicker and more predictable delivery using our easy-to-follow API delivery process 

  • get started quickly using our one-click API platform set-up tool

  • full customisation, with plug-and-play modules for authorisation, rate limiting, logging, monitoring and alerting 

  • a full CI/CD pipeline, including multiple path-to-live environments 

  • quick and easy API documentation using OAS (aka swagger) 

  • comprehensive self-service technical and non-technical guidance in our API producer zone (account required)

  • dedicated technical and non-technical support for when you’re stuck

One API producer said they were 'frankly astonished' at how quickly they were able to set up their API on our platform.

Benefits to the wider NHS

By making integration easier, we provide a number of benefits to the wider NHS:

  • API producers and consumers can get useful, integrated software to market quicker and cheaper
  • ...which gives them more time to add and improve features
  • the lower barrier to entry allows more software providers into the marketplace
  • ...which creates an environment for digital innovation to thrive
  • ...and pushes down software costs to the NHS
  • healthcare workers and patients have a wider variety of well-integrated software to choose from
  • ...which means they are more likely to have the information they need, when and where they need it

History and status

The API platform was launched in 2020, as part of our mission to make integration easier. It exited beta in March 2022, apart from the developer account, which is still in beta.

The first API we built on the platform was the Personal Demographics Service FHIR API. This is our 'exemplar' API – a demonstration of what good looks like. 

Since then, all new NHS Digital APIs have been built on the platform, and we have been working to migrate our existing APIs to the platform. This is likely to take some time.

You can check on our progress by viewing our API catalogue, filtered on API platform APIs.

You can see what’s in the pipeline by viewing our interactive product backlog. This includes upcoming APIs as well as API platform features.


Case studies

We only have one case study at present:

More case studies to follow.


Technology stack and open source

Our API platform has a hybrid technology stack, using a blend of proprietary products, open source products and bespoke code.

Specifically, at the time of writing (27 April 2022), we are using:

Our bespoke code, including the code for all our API proxies, is mostly coded in the open and is hosted in our GitHub repositories. We welcome contributions from the developer community - but we're not always watching out for them, so if you do raise a pull request, you might want to contact us to let us know.


Getting started

API consumers

To get started as an API consumer, see the developer hub.

API producers

You can use the NHS Digital API platform to expose APIs for:

  • NHS Digital back-end applications
  • third party back-end applications

You can use it to:

  • publish your API documentation
  • provide a technical 'front door' for your API
  • provide digital onboarding for your API or other service

You don't have to do all three - for example you might want to just publish your API documentation, or just use digital onboarding.

You can only use the API platform for APIs or services that support the delivery of health and care for the NHS in England - although there are some exceptions to this rule.

We operate a 'platform' model - you build and run your own API, using our tools and with our help and support.

The API platform is centrally funded - it's free of charge for NHS Digital and third party API producers. This is subject to a reasonable use policy, and also might change in the future.

To get started as an API producer, see our API producer zone.

Currently, you need an NHS Digital Confluence account to access the API producer zone. To get access, contact us. In the meantime, you can download:

  • our API Producer Overview slide deck
  • a snapshot of the API producer zone as a PDF file - taken on 29 April 2022 and with some sensitive information removed

Downloads

These are a PowerPoint file and a Portable Document Format file. To request a different format, contact us

Last edited: 5 May 2022 1:08 pm