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NHS England on the cusp of launching first citizen identity pilot

The NHS will begin trialling its identity verification system with a non-clinical service shortly, with 20 other services in the pipeline, according to NHS England chief digital officer Juliet Bauer

NHS England will begin testing its citizen ID platform in the next few weeks, with other services to follow over the coming months.

Speaking at UK e-Health Week, NHS England’s chief digital officer said the NHS will begin testing of the identity platform, which aims to allow patients to securely access online health records and services, with a non-clinical service very soon.

“We are at the point now, that in the next couple of weeks we will be putting out the first service to test using this product,” she said, adding that the decision was made to test with a non-clinical service first as there is “less risk around it” than if it involved patient records. 

“We now have a pipeline of services, 20 services, that are in the pipeline to use the citizen identity services.” 

The NHS is doing assurance work around those services currently, and over the coming weeks and months, said Bauer: “You are going to see several services start to use the citizen identity service we have created”. 

As previously reported by Computer Weekly, the NHS is building its own platform for ID verification instead of using the Verify platform created by the Government Digital Service (GDS).

Bauer has previously suggested that Verify may not be secure enough for all NHS services, but  hasn’t  excluded the use of the platform for “low-level services” with “potentially less sensitive information”.

When questioned by Computer Weekly on this, following her speech, Bauer said that this was still very much the case.

“We know that there's a significant number of people, over two million, who have a Verify account, and it would be ‘not sensible’ of us to not consider that as a route we could use for health,” she said.

“But we may need to add additional security on top of that for certain services. So yes, we will be working with them as one route, but that won't be the only route.” 

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The citizen ID platform will also use an “offline couching identity service” where the patient’s clinician can generate a “token of trust” for a patient to be able to access their medical records online. 

NHS England has so far had expressions of interest from eight NHS organisations, six suppliers and one “sustainability and transformation plan” (STP) region.  So far, six of those organisations and one supplier are “ready to onboard”. 

The full version of the identity verification system, which “will provide people with a single login for local and national NHS online services” is likely to be launched in 2019/2020, but Bauer said it’s a “very challenging project to get right” and that NHS England will “go at the pace that’s right” rather than rush to meet a deadline. 

The citizen identity platform underpins everything “we’re trying to do”, said Bauer, including the NHS app, allowing patients access to a range of tools and services. Bauer said the app, which will be launched by the end of the year, will be “easy to use” and is “going to make a huge difference”.

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