Our success at the Dynamites 21’ Awards: delivering APIs to improve citizen experience

I’m Gemma Douglas, an Agile Delivery Manager at DWP Digital. My team are responsible for integration within the department. I’m really proud of the work we’ve achieved with this project and truly appreciate the amazing recognition we’ve had, winning ‘Project of the year’ in the public sector/not-for-profit category, at last year’s Dynamite Awards.

Our objective was to design a new passport benefit service that allowed pharmacies to instantly check citizen entitlement to free prescriptions on the basis of the DWP benefit entitlement. The main objective of the service was to reduce fraud and error, as prior to the digital check, the NHS had to rely on the retrospective checking of a paper form which was time consuming and costly. Whilst building the service, we also found that the check also identified many citizens who were entitled to free prescriptions but were not aware of this.


Unlocking APIs

The new Passport Benefit Service was delivered through sharing DWP Benefit information via a new Application Programming Interface (API) that enabled pharmacists and their employees to enter the customer’s information into their system to trigger a real-time check with DWP where appropriate.

This has helped transform the experience for both citizens and pharmacists; instead of a retrospective check some time after the medication has been dispensed, the new check is performed at the point of dispensing the prescription. The check is completed in sub-seconds which means there is no delay in service for the citizen or the pharmacist. If for some reason the citizen disagrees with the outcome of the DWP check the pharmacist will provide the prescription free of charge based on the citizen’s declaration and will mark it for a further retrospective check.

This new service is also built for re-use, so other government departments who use DWP Benefit entitlement as part of their qualifying conditions can use it. We have currently extended use to the Department of Education for Free School Meals check, DVLA for Road Tax Exemption and HMRC for Tax Free Childcare.


Collaboration is key

We experienced many challenges along the way, for example one of our main challenges was to plan around competing priorities in the source benefit systems including Universal Credit. To help us keep moving forward with the service we provided a ‘minimal viable product’ by creating an initial API that used data from the source legacy benefit systems, which was sufficient to run the initial pilot exercise with the NHS. The service has since been iterated to include Universal Credit details.

To deliver this project successfully, we worked collaboratively with NHS Business Services Authority (BSA) and a number of other DWP Digital Teams through the scrum framework. Our DWP team had some fantastic developers, a couple of business analysts and a product owner working alongside me as the delivery manager. NHS BSA had a similar set up and we met fortnightly during sprint reviews to review the service and work together to agree priorities and features.

Following the scrum framework allowed us to collaborate with stakeholders regularly. Taking “a little and often” approach allowed changes and improvements to happen quickly. Reviews allowed us to demo the service improvements and agree collaboratively what was the next highest priority task. With the implementation of the API, we were able to achieve our goal and deliver a service that has transformed the service for millions of citizens.

If you’re interested in working for an organisation that uses the latest tools and technology to make a difference in people’s lives, we’re always looking for new talent to join us. Take a look at the DWP Digital Careers site or you can subscribe to their newsletter for more information.


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