Guest blog: NHS numbers survey

Hello, I am Gareth Thomas; I am the Senior Responsible Officer for the Integrating Care Locally Programme and I am asking for your help with this vital issue.

As an NHS Consultant in Intensive Care Medicine and Anaesthesia, I first became involved with digital service transformation through a desire to improve patient safety and quality of care. It was clear to me that by using digital technologies we could deliver world-class outcomes for patients, at the same time as improving use of resources. There are several mechanisms by which digital technologies can achieve these aims:  ready access to shared information, clinical decision support to standardise practice, pre-emptive identification of risk, use of population level data to understand and change systems of care, citizen ownership of the record, and openness to innovation.  These processes should happen seamlessly, and should be an integral part of our daily practice.

By the nature of the health and care landscape we amass information from numerous sources. For us to realise the benefits of digital technologies, it is essential that these information sources are interoperable. At an individual patient level, this ability to share information will eradicate unforeseen risk, avoid duplication of effort, and create a combined health record. At a population level, interoperability provides the foundation stones for us to build integrated systems of care, and deliver transformation across a range of organisations.  For us to achieve our ambitions for an interoperable health and care system, it goes without saying that we must be able to reliably identify each individual, and attach their information to their record.

With the same vision in mind, Simon Eccles has identified the CCIO 7 Interoperability Priorities as his key strategic enablers of the interoperability agenda. One of these CCIO 7 priorities is the ubiquitous use of the NHS Number – the ability to access and use the NHS Number as the primary identifier in each system. The NHS Number is essential in ensuring a patient’s data is kept with them throughout their health and social care journey, giving a seamless, safe care experience, whether at home, in hospital, or a residential nursing home.

All of us working in health and social care wish to deliver safe care and an excellent patient experience, whilst working in an efficient way. Our work is supported and enabled by our systems suppliers. Without our IT systems we can’t see a patient’s medical history, order and review essential investigations, or send letters and referrals to other departments and Trusts. Very often, the public don’t appreciate how many systems we have. Booking systems for operating theatres, networked computers for medical secretaries and other hospital and Trust administrative staff, electronic patient records, radiology and pathology systems – these safety critical systems all depend upon reliable patient identification. I want our systems to be able to provide a seamless transfer of patient information linked by a single identifier – the NHS Number. But I know this doesn’t always happen, especially when we have a myriad of independent and often very specialist systems across the health and social care system.

We need all our systems to work using the NHS Number. It is better for patients. It is better for clinicians and care providers. NHS England are undertaking the NHS Numbers 2019 survey to understand where the NHS Number is being used effectively and where use is sub-optimal, to understand the reasons and blockers to widespread adoption. They are keen for system suppliers to participate in the survey, to know how to them to incorporate the NHS Number into the systems they provide. Your answers will be used by NHS England to determine the support required, and to ensure the standards and specifications for systems are most relevant.

To ensure your voice is heard at the heart of the NHS, please take some time to complete the survey which runs from 22nd January to 1st March 2019.

Please follow the link here to this essential survey.

Thank-you for taking the time to give your views – these will help us to deliver safe, high quality care for patients.


Dr Gareth Thomas

Senior Responsible Officer for the Integrating Care Locally Programme, NHS Digital

Group Chief Clinical Information Officer, Salford Royal NHS FT


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