COVID-19 vaccine rollout may be delayed - with IT system 'failing constantly'

·3-min read

The rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine could be delayed by technical issues, doctors and health officials have warned, after the first week of the vaccination programme was marred by difficulties with data collection.

GP practices have been forced to collect data on the rollout of the Pfizer vaccine by hand, following problems with the software being used to keep track of who has been given the jab.

A senior health official told Sky News that the IT system, known as Pinnacle, was "failing constantly" and that GPs were "having to record on paper and then transfer".

The official said the problem could help explain why the government has struggled to publish figures on how many people have received the vaccination until Wednesday morning, when vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi tweeted the first official numbers - a claim the Department for Health denies.

The official also raised concerns about the system for recording and booking appointments, known in the field as "call and recall".

Despite months of promises, they said, there was still no system that could record everyone who had been given the vaccine.

As a result, the official said, GPs were not able to find out who had already been vaccinated by a hospital, causing delays as checks were made and raising the risk that some people might get missed, or even potentially vaccinated twice.

Dr Elliot Singer, a GP in Waltham Forest in north London, said his practice had experienced the "hugely frustrating" problems with Pinnacle, which did not connect to other systems and kept dropping off.

"That creates a backlog of patients because we have to manually keep that on paper. But then somebody has to enter that at a later date, and all those things cause delay," he said.

"It's not nice weather and we've got old people standing out in the cold waiting to get their vaccine because of these types of delays."

Dr Singer said there was "no call and recall" system for the vaccine.

Instead, his team was using time-consuming workarounds, which required administrative staff to enter the same details manually into two different systems each time a patient had a vaccine appointment.

"We're all really getting frustrated," he told Sky News. "It's just not helping us to deliver the programme."

Sky News understands that consultancy firm PA Consulting has been asked to build a dashboard showing the latest vaccine figures, but health officials have been told the system will not be ready until January.

The software used to record patients receiving the vaccine was switched last week from one called Sonar to Pinnacle, owned by British medical company EMIS.

An NHS spokesperson said: "There has been an excellent start to Primary Care Network vaccinating this week. EMIS has confirmed that their system go-slow lasted less than 30 minutes and is fully resolved."

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Mr Zahawi released the first numbers from the vaccination programme in the UK on Wednesday morning, saying there had been 108,000 vaccinations in England, 7,897 in Wales, 4,000 in Northern Ireland and 18,000 in Scotland.

A government spokesperson said: "Working with the NHS and Public Health England we will publish detailed data on the latest numbers of vaccines administered on a weekly basis and this will start as soon as possible.

"This is the biggest immunisation programme in our country's history and the collection of data is crucial to our understanding of uptake, impact and future planning."

A spokesperson for EMIS said: "There was a short delay with the Pinnacle software for some users to login whilst we optimised performance at lunchtime today, 15 December.

"Users who were already logged onto the system were not affected but those trying to log in were not able access the system for a period of about 25 minutes. There was no patient data affected and the system is now working correctly.

"Any vaccination centres experiencing issues can ring the service desk helpline number available on the NHS England website and they will receive prompt support," they added.