COVID on nhs.uk: March and April 2022
My team and I look after the website’s COVID hub. We provide users with the information they need and we signpost them to COVID-19 services when they need them. Here’s what happened on nhs.uk in response to COVID-19 in March and April 2022.
This bumper blog post covers 2 months — one either side of the end of free COVID testing on 1 April. It was definitely planned that way and has nothing to do with the fact that I ran out of time to write up what happened in March nearer to the time.
The month in numbers: March
On average, there were about 755,000 visits a day to the COVID hub. The most frequently viewed pages were what to do if you have coronavirus (what was the self-isolation page), information about lateral flow tests, book a vaccination appointment, get a digital COVID Pass and what was the Get tested for coronavirus page.
Overall, there were 8 million journeys into 1 of the 18 services that users of the COVID hub are signposted to. That’s slightly lower than the number of journeys in February.
The month in numbers: April
On average, there were about 550,000 visits a day to the COVID hub. The most frequently viewed pages were book a vaccination appointment, get an NHS COVID Pass, what to do if you have coronavirus and find a walk-in vaccination site.
Overall, there were 5.7 million journeys into 1 of the 18 services that users of the COVID hub are signposted to.
End of free testing
On 1 April free COVID testing ended for most people.
- advise people what to do instead of getting a test
- be clear about who is still eligible for free tests
- retain user journeys for people who are still eligible for free tests to order tests, report results, etc.
My team handled the knock-on effects of this change, including:
- how long to wait after having COVID before getting vaccinated if you didn’t test for COVID
- using lateral flow tests instead of PCR tests if you are eligible for COVID treatments
- changing the advice on what to do if you have any symptoms from ‘get a PCR test’ to ‘try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people’.
Updated COVID symptoms
At the same time as this change to testing eligibility, the list of COVID symptoms was expanded from 3 symptoms to 12.
Previously, we had listed just the 3 main symptoms: high temperature, cough and loss of smell or taste. There were several reasons for this:
- to remain consistent with public health guidance from PHE/UKHSA and national comms
- to focus on the symptoms that were most specific to COVID (even as the profile of COVID changed with Delta, Omicron and vaccination, these 3 symptoms were still the strongest indicators of a COVID infection)
- to be as clear as possible about the criteria for needing to get a test, self-isolate or take some other action.
Not everyone agreed with this editorial decision — we received a lot of feedback from users asking why we didn’t also mention headache, sore throat, runny nose and so on.
As well as updating the content on nhs.uk, we made sure that Google knowledge panels based on this content were also updated:
Results of these changes
We surveyed thousands of users of nhs.uk before and after the 1 April changes:
- A similar number of respondents (85% before, 87% after) found some or all of the information they were looking for.
- More respondents said they would do nothing as a result of viewing this information (14% before, 32% after).
- Fewer respondents said they would get a test (48% before, 21% after).
Other changes to nhs.uk COVID content
In roughly chronological order:
- We added a notice that self-isolation rules are changing to the start page of Get an isolation note. We also started conversations with colleagues at DHSC and DWP about potentially retiring the service.
- We made it clearer for parents of at-risk 5–11 year olds what to do if they had not been invited to get a vaccination.
- We made some changes to How to look after yourself at home and moved this page on self-care into a topic hub with the COVID treatments page.
- We updated information on the evidence that people with a weakened immune system need to bring with them when getting vaccinated.
- We updated our How to get a booster dose page with information about the Spring booster — an additional dose for people aged 75+, people who live in care homes and people with a weakened immune system.
- When all 5–11 year olds (not just those at high risk from COVID) became eligible for vaccinations we restructured our existing information for 12–15 year olds and expanded it to include this new age group.
- We updated the list of people eligible for COVID treatments.
- We turned off the big yellow COVID banner at the top of the website. Read more about the background to this decision in January’s blog post.
What we’re doing next month
I can’t share everything that we’re currently working on because some of it is sensitive, but here’s what I can tell you. We will:
- prototype and test changes to higher risk content, including pregnancy
- update messaging on non-COVID conditions pages where symptoms are also symptoms of COVID.