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NHS builds online ID verification platform

NHS England’s chief digital officer Juliet Bauer reveals the NHS is working to build its own online ID verification system

The NHS has begun building its own platform for ID verification to allow patients and carers to securely access online health records services. 

NHS England’s chief digital officer (CDO) Juliet Bauer said the project, which is still in the early stages, aims to provide a single way for people to prove their identity securely.

This includes working on creating a set of standards around the platform, which are currently in draft form, and the NHS is in talks with clinicians, the public and central government about the platform. 

Verify for low-level services

The Government Digital Service (GDS) has already created an online identity assurance platform, Verify, which is intended to be the default mechanism for citizens logging into online public services to prove they are who they say they are. 

However, speaking at EHI Live in Birmingham last month, Bauer suggested that the government’s identity assurance platform Verify may not be secure enough for all NHS services, but does not exclude the use of the platform for “low-level services” with “potentially less sensitive information”.

“We have started building a platform for ID verification. As part of this project, we are also looking at other identity systems, including Verify, and working with colleagues across government to create the appropriate solution for health,” said Bauer.

“We've been talking to government ID services so that if people wanted to use their government ID, they could use that to log in to certain low-level services if that’s what they chose to do.”

The work on ID verification for the NHS is not new, and neither is the somewhat reluctance to use Verify. Last year, Computer Weekly reported NHS Digital, NHS England and GDS were working to create a version of Verify suitable for the NHS.

Read more about Verify

At the time, NHS Digital director of operations Rob Shaw said there are certain transactions where Verify “is not quite there in terms of the level of security we’ll need” in the NHS, adding that it will need an extra layer of security.

The NHS isn’t the only organisation not entirely convinced by Verify.

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), in particular, has been reluctant to use the platform, with sources suggesting the department had no confidence in the system. In fact, HMRC is developing its own identity service, based on the Government Gateway.

Low uptake

The government aims for Verify to have 25 million Verify users by April 2020, but has been criticised for having lost its way in its work on the platform. Earlier this year, the National Audit Office (NAO) said the platform had been “undermined by its performance and GDS has lost focus on the longer-term strategic case for the programme”.

Uptake figures on the platform show only 15 digital services use Verify, with an average of only 46% of people using those services being able to successfully create a verified identity. Of those who do manage to successfully create an ID, 37% on average are then able to access the digital service they want to use.

In light of the slow update of Verify, the NAO said GDS should undertake a review to show there is a “proven need” for the platform.

“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.”

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Jon Trickett has also criticised the Verify programme, saying it is “being handled appallingly”. “Not only is it inefficient and clearly failing, it also brings into question the security of citizens and the accountability of public services,” he said.

Earlier this year, in her first speech since becoming the minister responsible for digital, Caroline Nokes said digital identity is “an absolute imperative in the 21st century”, but added: “I am completely candid – there are challenges with Verify”. She said GDS has done brilliant work so far “on the path to digital identity with Verify”, but the platform is “not an end in itself – it’s about access to services that a digital identity will give people”.

“I acknowledge it’s not for everyone, but we need to go down the path of digital identity for citizens,” she said.

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