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Equipment, software, connectivity – what it takes to digitally enable vaccination sites

Among the many workstreams needed to rapidly establish vaccination centres across England, digital enablement is one of the most crucial and challenging ones. Without the expertise to set up devices, vaccine tracking and booking software and connectivity, the vaccination programme would have struggled to mobilise so quickly – especially at new community venues with no pre-exiting infrastructure.

Nationally, the Commissioning Support Units (CSUs) have digitally enabled more than 1000 vaccination centres, over eight waves from November until mid-January. Much of this work was outsourced to third parties. Midlands and Lancashire CSU (MLCSU) were well placed to complete this work in-house, bringing a lower cost and enhanced responsiveness.

IT vaccine support infographic

Software and hardware

Our support included implementing key national systems such as Pinnacle, SimplyBook, National Booking System, Foundry, NIVS, NIMS and AccurX. These booking solutions let patients book and receive appointments, and staff log and track vaccinations so people can be recalled for their second doses in 12 weeks’ time.

In the process, we installed and configured over 500 devices, through a mixture of established NHS infrastructure and procurement of additional equipment. Careful consideration was taken to make sure it could be redeployed to local primary care stock once no longer needed at vaccination sites.

Training and support were provided to all sites, online and onsite. This made sure staff were familiar with the new technology and that they felt adequately supported at a critical time.

Patient data

Our Primary Care Data Quality team helped GP practices to identify cohorts of patients eligible for vaccinations. This allowed primary care networks and clinical commissioning groups to plan how many vaccinations are needed, on which dates and in which areas.

Clear data was reported regularly to NHS England and Improvement, which informed national procurement and planning activities – making sure that the correct amount of vaccine is delivered to vaccination sites.

The data team also worked directly with practices to ensure that ethnicity, carer status and occupation are recorded correctly in clinical records – so that the more vulnerable patients are offered vaccinations at the appropriate time.

Improving infrastructure

In many areas, we had to install equipment and infrastructure from scratch into new community venues set up as vaccination sites, including church halls, village halls, leisure centres, theatres, council offices.

We also upgraded local infrastructure to improve connectivity and give some additional capacity to the network.

For example, we established temporary 4G networking facilities for mass vaccination centres at eight locations in Herefordshire and Worcestershire including Malvern Showground, St Peters Church Worcester and Ledbury Community Hall among others. Connectivity is supported with 24-hour monitoring and a four-hour response time.

We even placed a temporary 4G mast when the existing connectivity could not support adequate internet access.

No challenge is too big

We were responsible for the total digital enablement of over 100 vaccination centres in Birmingham and Solihull, Black Country, Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Shropshire, Cheshire and Lancashire, in under 10 weeks. Involving over 100 MLCSU staff, we supported both primary-care run local vaccination centres and mass vaccinations hubs.

Such a huge undertaking had many challenges, not least mobilising staff to work at short notice and for extended times – especially problematic during the cold weather and festivities during the December-January period.

We continue to provide a robust and responsive support service to ensure all digital services remains operational. Therefore, we established a seven day a week IT support service, with a range of specialist engineers that remain on call, to provide weekend support should this be required at vaccination centres.