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NHS Digital plans September go-live for citizen identity service

Health and social care patients will have a single online identity verification log-in to use across health and care by autumn 2017

NHS Digital aims to deploy a single identity verification service for use in health and social care by the end of September 2017.

The plans are part of the organisation’s Personalised health and care 2020 deliverables, and forms part of the patient engagement stream, focusing on giving patients control of their own health and “reducing pressures on frontline services”.  

The citizen identity programme aims to provide “a single, secure identity for each member of the public, across all health and care services,” according to NHS Digital’s latest board papers

According to the papers, NHS Digital “will agree a system for Citizen Identify and go live for selected Personalised health and care 2020 programmes” by the end of September.

The aim is to create an identity authentication scheme which “links social identities to an NHS identity so the right information can be confidently shared”.

In 2016, Liverpool Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) began to trial Gov.uk Verify, the identity assurance service created by the Government Digital Service (GDS). However, it is still not certain that the NHS will adopt the service, and it is still exploring different options.  

In an interview with Computer Weekly last year, NHS Digital’s chief operating officer Rob Shaw said the NHS was likely to end up with “a hybrid of different things” to make sure that the service is secure enough due to the sensitivity surrounding health data.  

Since then, GDS has worked with the NHS to better understand the needs of health and social care, however no decision has been made on whether or not to adopt the service for the NHS.

Last year, the NHS began work to link Verify with the NHS Digital’s personal demographic service, which holds the master patient index of NHS numbers as well as other details.

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GDS aims to have 25 million UK citizens registered on its Gov.uk Verify identity assurance system by 2020. 

However, this would require not only the NHS to take up the service, but also getting large departments on board, such as HM Revenue and Customs’ (HMRC’s) self-assessment and digital tax services and the Universal Credit welfare system run by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Both departments have reportedly been reluctant to adopt the service, with HMRC developing its own identity verification service based on the existing Government Gateway, and DWP initially reluctant to adopt Verify – although it is now using it in its new, digital version of universal credit.

The government has also begun to run several pilots with local councils and private sector services to establish their needs for the service. 

In a recent National Audit Office (NAO) report, the NAO criticised the Verify programme for having “lost focus on the longer-term strategic case for the programme” and not achieving the predicted number of users.

“Reduced take-up means that Verify will need to be centrally funded for longer, and reduces the incentive for the identity providers to lower their prices over time,” the NAO said. “It is not clear how or when GDS will determine whether continuing with Verify will achieve projected benefits.” 

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