Scalable e-portal for the Department of Health and Social Care.

Quick Results

About the Client

The Department of Health & Social Care (DHSC) is a ministerial department of the government. Its main objective is to help people to live more independent, healthier lives for longer. DHSC sets the overall strategy, funds and oversees the health and social care system with, and through, its 28 agencies and public bodies. 

Business Challenge

Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, health and social care providers purchased personal protective equipment (PPE) locally through systems that were not centralised. This worked well until PPE prices soared with increasing demand in the face of a global pandemic. 

As part of emergency efforts, the UK government provided essential organisations with PPE free of charge. This included doctors (such as GPs), nurses, social care providers, dentists, orthodontists, pharmacies, optometrists, drug and alcohol services, other government departments, local authorities, independent sector providers and a range of other eligible users and essential organisations working across the country. 

Providing accessible supply and distribution routes to obtain free PPE and other critical stock helped ensure that all organisations, big and small, could get faster access to necessary PPE. To achieve this, DHSC quickly created a central portal to coordinate and control PPE ordering.

That portal was built pro-bono on eBay’s ecommerce environment to supply free PPE to primary and secondary care providers. The free and centrally sourced PPE was reassuring for many, but some organisations were ordering beyond their needs, creating PPE shortages. Just like shoppers panic buying toilet rolls in supermarkets up and down the country, some secondary care providers were still buying beyond what they needed, constrained only by what they could store.

With few controls in place, these over-orders created more shortages, which built more PPE anxiety and panic over-ordering. Learning quickly, the PPE portal put some controls on the total amount of PPE organisations could order.

However, the portal was only meant as a six-month stop-gap whilst a more efficient system was researched and built to future-proof the platform and better suit the needs of the users and providers.

DHSC partnered with CTI Digital to build a highly scalable, enhanced version of the PPE portal that can respond to and mitigate against evolving situations and future health crises.

User Research

Due to the challenges of the stop-gap portal, our strategy team conducted user research to understand the complexities of what was needed from a robust yet scalable platform while also providing insight into four key areas:

  • Uncover the main challenges customers had with the first portal

  • Discover user patterns of user interactions

  • Tracking performance, including customer satisfaction and customer confidence

  • Establish an official name for the website

To pinpoint these specific areas, a strategic plan was implemented, including:

  • A review of the first website - what can be learned from the first website?

  • SEO review - what are users searching for on search engines to find the portal? This would help us feed into the name selection unless we found the existing name had already been embedded into our users’ minds.

  • Surveys - on the original and beta websites across all regions of the UK and all key organisation types. This generated over 900 responses that needed to be analysed.

  • Research sessions - How orders are placed and the usability of a range of key tasks.

  • Benchmarking - the performance of the first portal in comparison to the second on confidence and satisfaction, which were key GDS assessment areas.

We discovered many insights to improve the ordering portal through our research. Some of the improvements included:

  • How best to provide information on ordering limits.

  • Measuring the number of PPE items ordered rather than the number of boxes to throttle users trying to maximise their total ordered items.

  • The storage requirements for combinations of PPE pack sizes. It came to light that one box of 200 gloves takes up less space than two boxes of 100 gloves.

  • Delivery logistics — enabling one administration point to order with the ability to create multiple delivery locations to reduce PPE anxieties through redistribution.


Platform Build | Adobe Commerce

The platform chosen for this eCommerce build needed to be scalable and flexible while being deployed as quickly and efficiently as possible to support ongoing challenges from the first portal.

Adobe Commerce, formerly known as Magento, was used for its suitability for quick deployment while allowing for scalability and flexibility when required. The website also uses a responsive design that makes it simple to use on any screen size—an important feature for people working outside of offices and on the front lines- enabling them to order quickly between their other life-saving duties.

One of the most significant differences with the updated e-portal on Adobe Commerce is the ability to segment audiences and add user journeys. The portal can be customised so that users see the PPE items most relevant to their organisation, from standard face masks and sanitisers to aprons, gloves, and eye protectors, making the ordering process as quick and straightforward as possible. Each organisation also has different order limits based on the type of organisation and size.

Elastic Search

The user research identified that different organisations used varying terms for the same items. This was wasting precious time away from the front line as users had to perform multiple searches to find the required PPE due to varying jargon and terms for the same items. This identified a need for elastic search.

Elastic search is an upgrade to the website’s previous search engine, making searching for SKUs, misspelt words, and less common terms easier and more efficient. Elastic search means that no matter what terms are used by various job roles, users will find the correct PPE required based on their search.

Rapid Ordering

Rapid PPE ordering for busy frontline organisations with a more user-friendly, personalised, and accessible portal for users and providers across the UK, reducing time spent away from saving lives and helping people in dire need of healthcare and support on the front line.

Quality Assurance (QA) Testing

All of our projects undergo rigorous testing throughout the software development process. In order to deliver the utmost quality for clients and their respective users, our in-house QA team ensures that all end products perform accurately and reliably under normal and abnormal conditions. Testing is followed by continual monitoring of software performance, to prevent reoccurrence of any issues and to ensure efficient ongoing operation. As such, we were able to confidently deliver a well-designed, scalable and technically stable result.


DHSC has deployed a more user-friendly, personalised, and accessible website for users and organisations across the UK. Users on the new portal can access features such as viewing their order limits, accessing order history, and tracking an order.

Over 8.75 billion items of PPE and related stock were ordered from April 2020 to September 2022 through the e-Portal.

“With such a vast and differentiated customer base relying on the portal every day, it was important to us that we created an experience that was quick and easy for everyone, no matter their level of digital maturity,” said Vishal Wilde, Former Policy and Communications Lead for the PPE e-Portal platform, Department of Health and Social Care (UK).

During the soft launch of the new portal, the department carried out a survey and received 446 responses; a total of 96% of respondents stated they were either “very satisfied” (76%) or “satisfied” (20%) with the new website while 97% stated they were either “very confident” (85%) or “confident” (12%) when using the new platform.

After launch, the portal 2.0 increased all metrics across the board, to be more confident, we measured them.

On the first website, 40% of people said they were very satisfied, but the second portal increased it to 76% — almost double. We also calculated a Net Promoter Score to show confidence, and we’d hoped to get more than 4 on a scale of 1 to 5 — we achieved 4.5.

The actual outcome isn’t in the numbers, although they are a valuable metric to measure ourselves against and, importantly, to present for the GDS assessment. The actual outcomes will be in the improvements to the PPE ordering portal and the time, money and stress it will help to prevent in ordering PPE in the future. 

As the need for PPE continues to fall, this portal will be in place should there ever be another spike in the need for PPE.

Feedback so far has been very positive. Customers have told us that they are more confident using the more user-friendly portal. In just over two years since we set up the first version of the e-Portal, we have worked with over 58,000 registered providers and delivered billions of items, that’s something we’re incredibly proud of. We’re well-positioned for future and ongoing distribution requirements that come our way.

Vishal Wilde, Former Policy and Communications Lead for the PPE e-Portal platform, Department of Health and Social Care (UK)