Case study

A blueprint for better NHS data


Our work for the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) relocating its common drug reference database (CDR) to the cloud helped the internal team to maintain a sharp focus on what service users needed. 


NHSBSA provides critical business services supporting NHS activities. The CDR is the main NHS database for processing transactions for drugs and appliances from the private sector, and for regulating prices. 

Opencast joined NHSBSA on a project to decommission its outdated CDR desktop application, relocating the platform from a physical server to a new web-based host.  

The existing platform was over 20 years old, unsupported and for many unfit for purpose. Within NHSBSA, team members could use the system, but often used time-consuming workarounds and manual data entry to extract information. 

A key challenge was that the CDR database was relied upon by countless other applications, meaning changes to the database would affect those applications. A new API, connecting the applications, would help overcome that.

NHSBSA logo in black


With limited time, Opencast set about trying to understand the minimum viable product needed for a new system to be fit for purpose.

User research identified what people wanted when searching. We helped remove jargon from the system, developing a prototype allowing search in plain English. 

Rapid prototyping and testing helped the team to a usable front end – and Elasticsearch massively improved the search function. User research in tandem meant we could test the prototype as the project went along. 

A man wearing a white t-shirt with a small orange graphic on it point at post-it notes on a board


Our work helped make the CDR easier and faster to use. The new API has helped NHSBSA to open up its data – and Elasticsearch has cut data search times to milliseconds.  

The use of rapid design techniques to design a prototype meant going back to users for validation then building it iteratively on a feature-by-feature basis. The user focus also helped make the platform fully accessible to screen readers. 

The project has helped NHSBSA to review its business processes – and, critically, given it a blueprint for decommissioning other legacy platforms, moving from batch processing techniques to more real-time data. It has fundamentally changed how the authority thinks about legacy and migrating away from it.

The project helped NHSBSA to review its business processes – and, critically, gave it a blueprint for decommissioning other legacy platforms