Pensioners are being forced to queue for hours for the coronavirus vaccine because GPs’ computers keep crashing, health bosses have warned.
A glitch linking new software needed to administer the jabs with existing IT systems is causing chaos in some practices, according to the British Medical Association (BMA).
Nearly a month after the problem was first flagged to bosses, GPs are still struggling to access key information, such as patients’ eligibility criteria, the doctors’ organisation said.
It follows videos emerging online showing scores of elderly patients queuing outside a GP vaccination centre in Forest Hill, south-east London, many of whom were not socially distanced.
The problems place a question mark over the achievability of ministers’ plans to significantly ramp up the number of vaccines delivered by local GPs.
Dr Richard Vautrey, who chairs the BMA’s GP committee, said the Pinnacle software – normally used by pharmacists – was running “unbelievably slowly”, and failing to link properly to the existing Emis and System 1 programmes, through which GPs access patient information.
“We find we’re trying to upload important information and that we can’t, or the system crashes altogether,” he said.
“It’s unacceptable. When trying to get through as many patients as possible you can’t afford to waste a minute, you can’t afford for the entire system to be a hindrance.”
Dr Vautrey said that when the system crashes, or runs too slowly to be serviceable, it means staff are forced to migrate the information manually, having taken handwritten notes.
The Government is aiming to offer inoculations to almost 14 million vulnerable people in the UK by mid-February. On Sunday the Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the Government was on course to reach its target, running at more than 200,000 people being vaccinated in England every day, and having already vaccinated around one third of the over-80s in the country.
However, Dr Vautrey said many GP vaccination centres are currently receiving so few doses that many have been unable to book patients in the coming days.
“At the moment the main limiting factor is the availability of the vaccine,” he said.
“Even next week it’s quite limited in numbers, and we’re not getting confirmation in a realistic way that we can book patients in.”
He called on health officials not to divert doses away from GP vaccination hubs to the regional centres on the basis that this would discriminate against the more elderly patients, who find it difficult to travel.
The NHS has said that people invited to receive a dose at the larger centres would still have the option of getting a jab more locally if they prefer.
It came as other senior doctors pointed out the challenges posed by GP staffing shortages on getting the vaccine rolled out.
Dr Martin Marshal, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said that even without staff sickness absences there would not be sufficient numbers in local surgeries to reach ministers’ targets of two million vaccinations a week.
“There are enough right now to deliver the limited supplies that we’ve got,” he told The Observer.
“But we certainly haven’t got enough staff to deliver a much larger programme in two or three weeks’ time, while at the same time continuing to deliver the flu vaccination programme and delivering normal business in general practice as well.”
His comments came amid reports that some at surgeries in Kent – where the new, more infectious variant of virus took hold – as many as half the staff members are absent.
Meanwhile it has emerged that doctors and nurses have been phoning family and friends to prevent coronavirus jabs going to waste, after scores of people booked in for vaccinations at a hospital failed to turn up.
Staff in Middlesex said on a single night 45 people due to attend a vaccination clinic had not made their appointment.
One nurse said: "It’s happening all over London."