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IT upgrade confuses child jab programme

MMR muddle

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An overhaul in NHS IT systems has been accompanied by a possible fall in child vaccination rates. As part of a £6.8bn upgrade to health service IT systems in the UK, 10 of 31 London health care trusts have installed software to manage child jab programmes.

The software was designed to help hospitals to manage the delivery of MMR and "five-in-one" jabs (which offers protection against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, polio and Hib disease). But only two of the hospitals where the technology has been installed has been able to supply figures on vaccination uptakes. These limited statistics show update rates dropping by up to 19 per cent for the five-in-one jab and a 10 per cent slip in MMR vaccinations over the last year. Even worse, data is missing on 50,000 children. This lack of accurate information leaves doctors unable to manage appointments and to send out reminders for follow-up jabs.

The Health Protection Agency is investigating the apparent fall in child vaccination rates in London which it warns may constitute a "major public health threat". It qualifies the warning by noting that without accurate information it is impossible to determine if child jab rates have actually dropped.

"It is by no means certain whether they are true falls in coverage over the last year or if indeed, they just reflect data quality problems relating to the implementation of the new child health systems," HPA immunisation expert Natasha Crowcroft told the BBC.

A spokesman for NHS Connecting for Health acknowledged problems with the new software but said the upgrade had become necessary after the NHS's previous supplier had withdrawn support for the previous system, which had become obsolete. The alternative to an upgrade would have been to do without computer systems at all, which "would have been far worse," he added.

The vaccination snafu is the latest in a long line of difficulties afflicting the upgrade in NHS IT systems. The 10-year scheme to bring UK IT systems into the 21st century, which is been administered by UK government agency NHS Connecting for Health, has already been criticised for overrunning costs and falling behind schedule. ®

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