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National Record Locator (NRL)

The NRL enables authorised users to find specific patient records that are held on different health care systems.

About the service

The National Record Locator (NRL) is a service that holds pointers and enables access to data held in local provider systems.

The service facilitates national sharing, removing the need for organisations to create duplicate copies of information across systems and organisations, by enabling access to up-to-date information directly from the source. 

It can be used to store and publish pointers to patient data held in health systems across England, to look up where relevant patient data is held and to retrieve data. It could also work with complementary services such as BaRS and Wayfinder to point to and retrieve booking, referrals, and appointment information.  

The service already points to the data for mental health crisis plans and end of care plans. This capability is currently being explored with several Shared Care Record providers.

Who the service is for

It enables an authorised clinician, care worker and/or administrator, in any health or care setting, to access a patient’s information to support that patient’s direct care.

What we deliver

The NRL pointers are based on the FHIR DocumentReference resource standard.

The pointers are patient centric and contain information about
  • the data type being pointed to

  • some basic metadata, such as the care setting where the information was recorded

  • how the consumer can retrieve the information from the provider - NRL is agnostic to the types of information it can point to and the mechanism by which information can be retrieved, consumers are currently retrieving documents as a PDF from providers

  • some providers also include a link to a web page containing contact details for the organisation providing the information

NRL can only be used for the purpose of direct care as defined in the Information Governance Review (opens as a PDF).


The strategic intention is that NRL will be the vehicle to join up care settings and access records at a national level without moving data around.

NRL is the single service that should be used for sharing pointers to records. This is because it integrates patient record access across the NHS and social care without dictating where those records might be stored, realising a level of national interoperability across the service which has previously been unachievable.

How it is used

The way a clinical system would use this service is that a system such as a local EPR (Electronic Patient Record) system would integrate with this service through the APIs. The EPR system would pass an NHS number and some filter parameters this would result in the system receiving back a list of pointers to where they could retrieve this type of information from.

To simplify the information retrieval process between consumers from providers, a complementary retrieval service can be used. The current use cases on the NRL utilise our Spine Secure Proxy (SSP) to decouple and simplify the security between the provider and consumer systems. In other uses cases, such as Booking and Referrals, we are building a specific API designed to share data, which has implemented a different proxy service. 

NRL has been developed to operate at national scale, meaning participants only have to sign a single data sharing agreement - removing the need for point-to-point sharing agreements.

Consumers can connect either directly with their own authenticated system, by using the National Care Records Service or using an in-context link in the local record. NRL is available over the internet or via HSCN.


Before you are given access to the NRL service your organisation will have to complete an assessment. The assessment will look at a range of criteria including:

  • technical conformance
  • data protection
  • security
  • clinical safety
  • benefits measurement
  • business process review and updates
  • service operations

You can learn more about the whole process by reading the NRL onboarding guide. This guide also provides examples of forms and documents you may need to support your assessment. Your assessment will be based on if your trust is a consumer, provider or software supplier. 

To access records that are available through the NRL you will need to have appropriate activity codes added to your National Identity.


Our roadmap of planned developments is shown below. Open the expanders to find out what we are delivering in each quarter.

Quarter 4 2022 (end of December)

We are aiming to:

  • achieve minor enhancements, such as improving deletion of pointers
  • uplift service level to Gold
Quarter 1 2023 (end of March)

We are aiming to have Minimum Viable Products (MVPs) live for the NRL dashboard and NRL FHIR R4 API Cloud hosted.

Quarter 2 2023 (end of June)

We are aiming to have:

  • Ambulance Reports, Bookings and Referrals and SharedCare Records live (please note, these timelines are movable given dependency on systems suppliers/Trusts) and the plan for migration
  • expansion of pointer types to cover radiology imaging data

Related APIs or services


The NRL Demonstrator Application is intended for both technical and non-technical audiences to quickly understand the basic functionality of the NRL.

Service information

Senior Responsible Owner (SRO): Stephen Koch

Service owner: Jill Sharples

Category: Interoperability

Service status: Beta

Service level: Bronze

Key metrics/KPIs: The NRL provides access to over 450,000 records including:

- mental health crisis plans

- end of life plans

- emergency care plans (eRedbags)

- national early warning scores (NEWS)

- urgent care plan

Contact details

For further information, contact the NRL and NEMS live team: [email protected]

Further information

internal National Record Locator for developers

The developer area shows you the code behind the Demonstrator (interactive guide) which will provide the details around the code construct of the demonstrator, code examples of how to connect to the NRL, and access to a reference implementation (stub) of the NRL API to allow quick and easy testing.   

internal National Record Locator for mental health trusts

A mental health professional may be responsible for creating a patient’s care plan.  If this care plan can be used and seen by ambulance service staff it may help them if they are treating a patient in crisis.

internal National Record Locator for ambulance services

National Record Locator (NRL) will be able to alert you to patients under your care who have certain records, for example a crisis care plan, created for them. This is done by your local health care system searching the NRL for pointers (or bookmarks) to patient records indicating that a specific type of record now exists for the patient. 

Last edited: 11 April 2023 5:37 pm