A popular NHS-developed healthcare signposting app and website which points patients to appropriate services and which was suspended over clinical assurance concerns is hoping to resume service by the end of the week.
Health Help Now, developed by North East London Commissioning Support Unit (NEL CSU) and primarily used by CCGs in London and surrounding counties, was taken out of service earlier this month and now hopes to restart services by the end of the week.
According to an initial report by HSJ, the decision to suspend was taken after concerns about its compliance with clinical assurance regulations were raised at NHS England. But investigation by Digital Health News indicates the picture is more complex, pointing to the continuing challenges of accrediting health apps to clear standards.
A spokesperson from NHS England told Digital Health News that, as soon as it became aware of issues with the “locally-developed product”, they were raised with the CSU and with the CCGs that license the app, and it was ensured the service provided through the app was suspended.
“The responsible local health organisations, NHS Digital and app developers will be working to check and ensure their product matches the relevant national standards”, an NHS England spokesperson told Digital Health News.
Health Help Now is designed to signpost people to relevant local health services. It draws on core information from NHS Choices and the 111 National Directory of Services.
While it does not offer a personalised symptom checker, it does offer “symptoms and advice articles”.
In a statement, the CSU reported the decision to suspend had been taken following “ongoing regular internal reviews” and “while further development takes place”.
A spokesperson said the suspension was linked to ensuring compliance with NHS Digital’s criteria for clinical risk management in health IT systems. The CSU’s longer term aim is to see the product included as part of the NHS Apps Library.
Launched in April 2017, the library is intended to present users with a suite of NHS-endorsed applications. It remains in semi-permanent beta, with only one application currently listed as NHS Approved and two as being tested.
“Health Help Now is currently going through the national standards for NHS health apps with NHS Digital,” the NEL CSU spokesperson told Digital Health News.
“We are working through the regulations with NHS Digital on any remaining requirements around clinical assurance.
“Clinical safety is and always has been our priority for patients and we have a robust governance model in place with local clinicians.”
The organisation said the app and website had been used half a million times with no incidents.
“Whilst we are disappointed that an instruction to suspect was made internally, we are confident that the product will emerge from this very short break positively – and as a result play a large part in the future of NHS-accredited apps.”
Health Help Now was launched in 2013 and is now used by 28 CCGs. The CSU said customers would be credited for the suspension.