Digital services and the Covid-19 pandemic

Melissa Ruscoe, Programme Head at NHS Digital, discusses the benefits of online healthcare through NHS services during the Covid-19 pandemic

The demand for digital healthcare services provided by the NHS, such as those accessed via the NHS login service and the NHS App, has been greater than ever during the coronavirus pandemic – and these digital services are bringing an array of benefits to patients and clinicians alike.

The ever-increasing numbers
Since the launch of NHS Digital services such as NHS login and the NHS App in 2018, millions of people have registered to access healthcare services digitally, with demand for digital healthcare increasing during the Covid-19 pandemic.

NHS login, an online service managed by NHS Digital, provides people with a quick and secure single point of access to a variety of digital health and care websites and apps using just one email address and password. Patients can access multiple services with a single point of access wherever the NHS login button is displayed. Through the NHS App, people can access their NHS COVID Pass, book appointments, view their health record and register their organ donation decisions, as well as access a range of other heath and care services.

Around half of England’s population – almost 28 million people – have registered with NHS login since the service was launched in 2018, up from 2.2 million this time last year (September) There have also been more than 16 million user registrations recorded for the NHS App, making it England’s most popular free app.

A peak in numbers of registrations for NHS login and the NHS App took place in May, coinciding with the launch of the NHS COVID Pass – which can be used for travel abroad and domestic events. On 17 May alone, when the NHS COVID Pass launched, around 220,000 people created an NHS login. There were also more than 2.8 million new registrations to use the NHS App within the first month following the addition of the COVID Pass.

An array of benefits, including saving lives
A total of 45 apps and e-health services are now available through NHS login, including e-Referral services, Covid-19 support and advice, maternity and child health services, online pharmacies, and services to monitor and improve health and wellbeing.

NHS login is also now one of the biggest digital identity verification services in England and provides users with a range of secure methods to verify themselves – including selfie videos and face scanning. Of the almost 28 million people currently registered with an NHS login, around 57% are now fully verified. Users are encouraged to complete identity verification to have complete access to the full range of services available via NHS login.

People registered with the NHS App are also benefiting from easier access to healthcare services online. During the past four months, almost 3.2 million repeat prescriptions were ordered and over 268,000 GP appointments booked via the app, saving valuable time for patients and clinicians, and providing patients with a simple and efficient way to take control of their healthcare and access services securely online.

The increase in app downloads could also have a life-saving impact as 1.5 million people have now used the NHS App to manage their organ donation decision, with 265,000 users registering their organ donation for the first time via the App. Over 150,000 of these new registrations have taken place in just four months since May 2021. Registering a preference on organ donation helps NHS specialist nurses to quickly understand people’s wishes, which can ultimately save lives.
 
Scaling up to support extra user registrations
To ensure the service could cope with the influx of people managing their healthcare needs digitally during the pandemic and, specifically, the additional volume of users generated by the NHS COVID Pass, the NHS App team had to scale up their services and meet the challenge of increased capacity head on.

To make sure waiting times for setting up an NHS login were kept at an acceptable level, the number of manual ID checkers had to increase significantly to handle the sudden surges and increases in user volumes. To ensure people wanting to use the NHS App were fully supported, the customer service team also needed to be increased.

The teams, with support from suppliers, scaled up both technical and operational capacities. To assist users visiting the NHS App help and support pages on the NHS website in even faster timeframes, the team introduced an automatic chat function using Zendesk customer support software. The automatic chat function anticipates what the user is trying to ask about the NHS App and provides an immediate response.

Making the most of the NHS App – for GPs
All GP practices are now linked to the NHS App. To ensure patients can make the most of all the varied features via the App – such as accessing health services on behalf of a family member or viewing their full medical record, practice staff must enable access within their clinical system. Doing so is mutually beneficial as staff will then reap the rewards of digitally savvy patients being able to access NHS services without the need to contact their GP – freeing up valuable time for clinicians to focus on other aspects of patient care.

To help GP staff familiarise themselves with the App and play an ongoing part in the NHS App’s success story, there is a full range of guidance available at: NHS App guidance - NHS Digital.
 
A list of websites and apps you can access with NHS login are available on the NHS website.  For more information on the NHS App, visit the NHS website.

NHS login follows the UK government's data storage standards to keep information private and secure. For more information, visit the NHS login privacy policy.

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