What’s in a number? (Part 2)

Picture1 A quick task.

Grab a sheet of paper or open a blank screen on your computer.

Write down:


  • Your phone number
  • Your partners or a family members phone number
  • Your National Insurance Number
  • The sort code from your primary bank account
  • Your NHS Number

How did you do? Were you able to remember them all? Which did you struggle with? (hopefully you can remember more than just your own phone number!) Regardless of your score out of 5 I am postulating that for at least four you could imagine what the digits looked like even if you couldn’t remember what they actually were. What about your NHS number. Do you have any idea of how many digits it actually has? It is an interesting concept that those working in Healthcare have more idea of their own National Insurance number than their NHS one. Blogging with different angle I suspect Ian Wacogne is arguing that the using NHS number raises a number of practical difficulties for staff. It is long and easy to make inputting errors leading to potential delays when it is utilised in clinical practice. Most health care professionals are very familiar with their own local hospital numbers – often remembering the exact digits of patients they know well and sometimes being able to recognise typographical errors just because the number “looks wrong”. However this reliance on local systems has caused problems for the NHS and care services. It is extremely difficult at the moment to bring together care records of patients because of the multiple disparate systems in use. I appreciate this is not just about a ‘personal number’ – the information technology challenges are considerable as previous governments have discovered to the tax-payers cost. But these difficulties have led to further local solutions occurring and increasing challenges with integration. The general unfamiliarity with the NHS number doesn’t help. The number looks like nhs_card Yes its long – but so is your mobile phone number. And its 3-3-4 format is not any more difficult to remember than your sort-code or NI number format which you are familiar with. I am not pretending the logistical issues to introduce a common number in NHS are huge. But at some stage the NHS and social will need to start using common identifiers if we are to provide any where near the service patients expect given the resource challenges of our societies health needs. My belief is that transition to the NHS number needs to start somewhere. Currently the NHS number doesn’t really exist to anyone but administrative staff and senior managers. In an increasingly digital age we need to start trusting people to be able to use digits. – Damian Roland @damian_roland

(Visited 1,122 times, 4 visits today)