NHS England - Transformation Directorate

How we are assessing COVID-19 apps

Picture of a cog

Countless innovators both inside the NHS and in the healthtech sector have been working hard to develop new mobile products and digital health technologies that can help in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. 

Lauren Harkins, the Digital Assessment Programme Lead, Rhod Joyce, Head of Partnerships, and Indra Joshi, Director of AI at NHSX, explain how we are making sure that these products can get to market quickly but safely. 

NHSX is working with NHS Digital to fast-track and evaluate apps (and similar technologies) that support our response to COVID-19, using the existing Digital Assessment Questionnaire (DAQ), within the Digital Assessment Portal (DAP). We are using this established process for products and services in high priority areas. These are products that will help citizens at home, the NHS and social care workforce, or those providing data to the NHS. 

At this critical time, in which products are being built and scaled at pace, it is as important as ever to undertake these assessments to ensure they are safe to use. So we are currently fast-tracking assessments with these existing standards to ensure that we can get these offerings out to those who need them. We are also providing additional support to developers through the process. The areas of focus are: clinical safety; data protection; and security.

We have paused assessments for apps that are not directly related to the COVID-19 response, so we can focus on the ones that most need quick approval. We will resume assessing the rest - from where they left off in the process - as soon as we are able.

The assessment

The assessment process reviews the safety and security of apps and checks that an app does what it says it does. The process and timescale differs depending on the product because the questions we ask change according to the complexity and risk profile of the product or service being assessed. Apps that are not processing patient data, for example, are asked fewer questions than those products that do.  

When we talk to digital health innovators, we say that the key to getting through the assessment quickly is answering the questions as accurately as possible and providing the evidence to support this. Our objective is working collaboratively so, if a company hasn’t documented something whilst scaling at pace, we can look at what they have got and continue with other areas of the assessment. 

To learn more about the process, or if you’re a developer and would like to start your application, read the NHS Apps library assessment pages. 

The value of the assessment

Many developers want to be able to say to commissioners and citizens that they have been through a thorough assessment process and have been held to rigorous standards.  

We want that too. We also want to ensure that:

  • the assessment process is transparent 

  • the NHS isn’t seen as endorsing products 

  • the NHS is facilitating the assessment of products and services to the required standards and allowing clinicians and citizens to make informed choices about which products to use 

What happens once a COVID-19 related app is accredited

Once assessed to the NHS standards, the app will appear on the NHS Apps Library page with a specific COVID-19 filter. We’re working on ways to make these even more visible with our colleagues at NHS.UK. 

Completing the assessment allows a company to state that their product or service has been assessed to the NHS standards, and that it has met those standards in any communications or press notices released. However, it does not allow the developer to state that the product or service has been ‘endorsed’ or ‘approved’ for use by the NHS.

A description would be: product xxx has been assessed and has met the standards required by the NHS”. 

For apps that are also providing data back to the NHS as part of our COVID-19 efforts, the description would continue: “...and is supporting the NHS and the Government to manage the COVID-19 crisis”. 

The NHS identity guidelines set out helpful guidance on when the NHS logo can be used and how developers are able to talk about the NHS.

Looking back to move forward

Looking back to February this year, we launched an open consultation on the proposed Digital Health Technology Standards that we felt encompassed efficacy, safety, security, robustness, stability, interoperability, usability, accessibility and responsibility and provided a clear process for reviewing, assessing and evaluating digital health technologies.  

We have been steadfastly committed to provide assurance to ensure that digital health technologies demonstrate levels of safety and efficacy appropriate for use in much the same way we would for traditional support or treatments, and for citizens and health and care staff to have access to the best digital tools.

In the coming weeks we will review the outcomes of this consultation and plan to transition to this Digital Health Technology Standard as the core assessment process going forwards. We will follow up with further details shortly. 

Submitting COVID-19 technology to NHSX for assessment

If you have a product or service that you would like the NHS to consider as part of our COVID response, or your app is ready for review against the standards, please email dnhsx@nhsx.nhs.uk where the team will review your submission. We have had many hundreds of offers and are actively matching these against the most pressing requirements identified though our digital response cells.