The month in COVID on nhs.uk: October 2021
This is the second of what is (tentatively) a monthly series of blog posts outlining what’s happening on nhs.uk in response to COVID-19. I’m the product manager on the NHS website’s COVID Team. We 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.
This month we have mostly been working on vaccinations.
The month in numbers
Each week in October, there were between 8 and 12 million visits to the COVID hub. The most frequently viewed pages were booking a vaccination appointment, information about the booster vaccine, getting a COVID Pass, information about vaccinations and finding a walk-in vaccination site.
Overall, there were 12.8 million journeys into 1 of the 18 services that users of the COVID hub are signposted to. Twice as many as there were in September.
Redesigning the vaccinations topic hub
My team and I spent much of October prototyping and testing a new structure for the vaccinations topic hub. This section of the COVID hub was designed and structured in the early days of the vaccine rollout. The content within it has been kept up to date but the external environment (both in terms of services available and people’s information needs) has changed. For example:
- As well as 1st and 2nd doses, there are now boosters and 3rd doses.
- As a result, eligibility has become more complex.
- There are new ways to get vaccinated: schools for 12–15 year olds, walk-in sites where you don’t need an appointment.
We incorporated all these changes within the existing structure but over time things got a bit messy. Users aren’t always clear about which service(s) they could use or what vaccine doses they were eligible for. And they sometimes struggle to navigate around the topic hub.
It’s not like the topic hub was completely broken — millions of people a month are successfully using it. But we felt there was room for improvement, and when you’re working on high-traffic, critical services like COVID-19 vaccinations even small improvements can make a big difference.
Everything is changing all of the time
The changes to the topic hub aren’t live yet — we hoped they would be, but you’ll have to wait till next month to hear about them.
The main reason for this is that everything kept changing all of the time. Every change to clinical advice, health policy or operational reality in the vaccinations space meant our team (especially our content designers) had to break off from the strategic redesign work to deliver an urgent, tactical fix to the existing website.
User research and service design are also more complex when everything is changing all of the time. One day our surveys were flooded with parents trying to find out how to get their teenagers vaccinated, another day it was older people looking for information on boosters. It’s hard to establish a baseline understanding of user needs when this is the case.
None of this is a complaint. This is the reality of doing the work we do during an emergency, when everything is changing all of the time. If the COVID Team wants to continue doing user research-led continuous improvement to the COVID hub (and we do) we need to get better at dealing with this. My DMs are open.
Here are some of the updates we made to the COVID hub in October.
Vaccinations for 12–15 year olds
We published basic information about vaccinations for 12–15 year olds in September but it became clear that parents and carers were struggling to find this and when they did find it they still had unanswered questions. At the same time, a national campaign was launching to increase vaccination rates among this age group.
In response to all of this we created a new page about vaccinations for 12–15 year olds. This contains information specific to this age group: why children are being offered the vaccine, how and when they will get it, and vaccine safety and side effects.
We added a survey on this page to understand if it was meeting users’ needs and 58% (a very high number for the NHS website) said it was missing important information, such as:
- what to do if your child misses their vaccination at school
- alternative ways to get children vaccinated
- when school vaccinations will happen and who will contact them.
We were able to meet the first 2 of these needs by adding links to other routes to get vaccinated. Children aged 12–15 can now book appointments or find walk-in vaccination sites that serve this age group.
We also updated the guidance for 12–17 year olds who are eligible for 2 doses of the vaccine because they are at high risk or live with someone who is.
Vaccination in other parts of the UK
nhs.uk is the NHS website for England, but it’s sometimes visited by people from other parts of the UK. This is especially true when there are national campaigns, such as the current one for flu vaccinations and COVID boosters.
We added ‘Vaccination in other parts of the UK’ links to the booster vaccine and flu vaccination pages to help people from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland find the relevant information and services for them.
The main change this month was the removal of the ‘Wait to be contacted’ message for booster doses following a news conference by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. Eligible people still need to wait 6 months after their 2nd dose to receive their booster dose, but if they don’t get an invitation they should try to book online.
We also added a hacky workaround — of which I’m not particularly proud — to the Find a walk-in vaccination site service. Eligible people could technically get a booster dose at most walk-in sites but we had no way to clearly show which sites they could or couldn’t use. So we told people they could use this service finder for booster doses and added “(not for boosters)” to the names of the vaccination sites where you couldn’t get a booster.
Thankfully, this is one temporary fix that was genuinely temporary. At the time of writing this blog post, this workaround has been removed and walk-in vaccination sites can clearly show whether they are offering booster doses. But that work was completed in November so I’ll cover it properly next month.
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’ll complete our redesign of the vaccinations topic hub so that journeys are clearer for users, information is easier to find and the content is easier to maintain.
- We’re onboarding a team to deliver improvements to the Find a walk-in vaccination site service.
- With new drugs to treat COVID-19 being approved and starting to be prescribed, we’re going to look into the user needs for information about COVID treatments.
- And we’ll no doubt be updating content as the clinical advice and health policy for COVID-19 changes.