From Discovery to Live: Transforming recruitment for the entire NHS

The brief

The NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) wanted to buy a new job service to help deliver their vision of: 

  • having the right people in the right NHS roles across the UK 
  • providing an accessible and efficient recruitment process
  • making recruitment as cost-efficient as possible

The NHS is the world’s 5th largest employer. The existing NHS Jobs service handled 4 million applications a year for more than 380,000 vacancies. But the recruitment experience wasn’t user-friendly for job applicants and hiring managers.

We joined the project in discovery, as NHSBSA’s strategic transformation partner, to help define the problem they needed to solve and ensure the right solution.

How we did it

We supplied a team of experts:

  • user researchers
  • service designers
  • UI/UX designers
  • content designers
  • technical architects
  • developers
  • delivery managers

Delivering the service

Our team worked in partnership with NHSBSA and other supplier teams to design, build and deliver the service through discovery, alpha and private beta – passing each assessment.

Through discovery, we identified that buying and customising a new platform would be too costly, and that the better solution was to build from scratch. 

During this project, we:

We also engaged with project teams on the DFE teachers service and civil service jobs, looking to see what knowledge we could gain from those services. 

Our new service is now in public beta, and is being used by more than 6,500 GPs and trusts across the UK.

Knowledge transfer

To help NHSBSA develop their internal capabilities, our specialists worked alongside NHSBSA staff to transfer project knowledge and new skills.

We did this by:

  • providing coaching and mentoring in agile delivery
  • hosting regular lunch and learns across design, user research, and development disciplines
  • hosting training sessions on delivery techniques, such as Wardley mapping
rich picture bsa

Phases of the project


This part of the project is all about defining the problem you need to solve.

To do this, we:

  • ran workshops with project stakeholders to agree on the NHSBSA’s vision, goals and user groups
  • benchmarked the user experience of the existing service and agreed on KPIs and success metrics for the new service
  • ran a Wardley mapping session to inform build versus buy decisions

From this, we carried out user research to understand the needs of job applicants and hiring managers. We conducted semi-structured user interviews, co-design workshops, and usability tests of the existing service.

We finished discovery with:

  • a findings report informing solution prototypes in the alpha phase
  • user personas (job applicants, hiring managers, HR and recruitment administrators), 
  • user journey maps
  • service blueprints for the existing service
  • a technical review of the existing service, identifying important integrations and their dependencies
  • a costed platform options appraisal
  • a Wardley map of potential technical solutions


This phase is all about trying out different solutions to the problems you learnt about during discovery.

We did this by:

  • prototyping and testing potential solutions based on discovery
  • defining the service’s scope
  • testing our most complex assumptions across the service

And to prepare to move into beta we:

  • defined the beta product development backlog
  • designed the future service technical architecture


Beta is where you take your best idea from alpha and start building it for real, making sure that the solution you’ve chosen works as well as possible.

We did this by:

  • testing our most complex assumptions across the service
  • developed the Beta product development backlog
  • enrolling 1000s of GPs and Trusts to use the platform for all future hires

Our validated solutions were turned into user stories for development throughout Beta. Our “definition of done” for user story development contained the 14 GDS service standards to ensure our work complied ahead of the assessment.

During public beta, we collected feedback from users of the service, and used this alongside web analytics to help us continuously iterate the service based on emerging needs.

Image of the NHS Jobs Beta service

Responding to the challenges of COVID

During this project, there were challenges around remote working for the NHS team we worked with, as well as some much needed additions to the service to respond to NHS COVID efforts. 

The NHS needed to recruit a lot of people fast into numerous front-line roles such as nurses and doctors, as well as staff to administer vaccines. 

People wanted to get involved during the crisis with GPs coming out of retirement and trained staff who had moved onto other careers wanting to return. The NHS jobs platform needed a way to recruit these users quickly, which was a challenge with so many staff now working remotely. 

We created a new feature for the service which categorised these roles clearly, and allowed hiring managers to add listings for COVID related jobs quickly and efficiently. Alongside this, we also shared our knowledge of remote working. As a remote-first company, Difrent has vast experience of working remotely, onboarding remote teams, and keeping up efficiency, as well as looking after our employees mental and physical wellbeing during remote working. 

What we did

Added a covid question to the create listing journey so that an employer could quickly and easily mark a job as being a covid related job.

Prominent signposting was added to the existing Jobs site, search and job detail pages to help people find Covid roles.

Image of NHS Jobs site highlighting Covid related jobs with a red dot


Working in partnership with the NHSBSA, we have:

  • improved application quality and reduced time to hire
  • maximised the project’s return on investment – including white-labelling NHS Jobs for re-use by other organisations
  • secured staff and stakeholder engagement by visualising the NHSBSA’s future state as a rich picture
  • helped reduce total cost of ownership for the platform
  • passed all GDS assessments first time

We improved the journey for both hiring managers using the internal service, and candidates looking for jobs, including improvements to:

  • scheduling – allowing internal users to choose times and dates for interviews
  • invite to interview 
  • progress tracking

One of our key successes was moving away from the old solution, which was a third-party API. This wasn’t working and had become an issue for all users. We created an in house solution to replace this which worked much better for the service. 

The new service was built and designed using accessible code and is accessible for users with access needs including those using screen reading software. It also works for mobile users, and has an assisted digital solution for users who have difficulty using digital services.

Difrent shared our values of being collaborative, adventurous, energetic and reliable in terms of the deliverability of what they promised to deliver.

Photo of Darren Curry

Darren Curry
Chief Digital Officer at NHSBSA

This work has been acknowledged by the Leading Healthcare Awards as Highly Commended in 2020 and achieving Overall Winner in 2021 for our Partnership with NHS BSA.

“I think the smile says it all, delighted to be the bride this time around and so god damn proud of the team!” Rachel Murphy FBCS

Leading Healthcare Awards 2020 Highly Commended
Rachel Murphy holding the Leading Health Overall winner 2021 award

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Photo of Danielle Hendy

Danielle Hendy
Engagement Executive

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