SH:24 is a new online sexual health service, delivered in partnership with the NHS. The service provides people in Southwark and Lambeth with free STI test kits, information and advice - 24 hours a day. Design Council are a long term partner and have a seat on SH:24's advisory board. 

Chris Howroyd, former Head of Health at Design Council, initially worked with the Public Health Department in Southwark and Lambeth to adopt a design-led approach when the project was at proposal stage. Chris continued to work with SH:24 as Design Lead, helping to deliver the project in a highly iterative, agile way. Designer Mollie Courtenay has worked with Chris throughout the discovery stage and is currently helping to optimise the service by conducting ethnography around the acceptability of the blood test. Here Chris talks about the launch of the service.

The issue

Lambeth and Southwark have some of the highest rates of sexual ill health in England. Poor sexual and reproductive health can have long term consequences, including ectopic pregnancy, subfertility and a life living with HIV.

How SH:24 can help

The Lambeth and Southwark public health department and specialist sexual health services at Guy’s and St Thomas’ and King’s College Hospital believe that bringing innovation to local sexual services through a design led approach will deliver radical improvements to the sexual health of the local population and could dramatically reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies.

Indeed, more generally there’s a growing consensus that digital health is going to play a pivotal role in how the NHS deliver services in the future. 

SH:24 is a great example of this and how design is being used where it should be in the NHS. We’ve applied many of the Government Digital Service (GDS) principles to the frontline, something very few, if any, have done before in the NHS. This is important because SH:24 goes well beyond a typical transaction based service that Gov.uk offer.

However, SH:24 is much more than just a digital solution. It represents the delivery of a complex end-to-end service with a multitude of human touchpoints. Prototyping has been pivotal to designing the service, allowing us to successfully engage and collaborate with a host of people; service users, clinicians, clinic receptionists, clinic managers, public health consultants, laboratories, commissioners, safeguarding boards and information governance committees - to name but a few. We produced no less than 17 prototypes, working with staff and patients in our partner sexual health clinics.

The potential of SH:24 is vast, not because of the functions it offers, but the approach the team has taken to develop it.

Future plans

Our understanding of design has completely changed - it has enabled us to deliver, on time and on budget, but more importantly to deliver a service we know people want.

Dr Gillian Holdsworth, Programme Director

The current service is a minimal viable product (MVP) – it offers the most basic yet most important of functions to users. We’ve tried to avoid building services and features that people do not want or need, and at the same time maximise the amount of learning.

Using the same approach, over the next 3 years we plan to carefully layer additional functionality on top of this MVP, beginning with more sexual health support – something which service users told us that they want first in our initial discovery phase.

It has been great to witness a shift in attitudes to our approach, in our own team and outside it - sceptics were slowly but surely won over by very quick, tangible outputs.

Dr Gillian Holdsworth, Programme Director, says: “Our understanding of design has completely changed - it has enabled us to deliver, on time and on budget, but more importantly to deliver a service we know people want. It's an approach which has already surpassed most of our stakeholder’s expectations.”

To find out more about SH:24, visit the SH:24 website or email info@sh24.org.uk. You can also follow SH:24 on Twitter and Facebook to stay up to date with the latest information.

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