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Millions at Risk of Fatal Meningitis Due to NHS IT Error

Sinead Donnelly


Vaccine IT error

An NHS IT vaccine alert system, designed to notify GPs when a patient required a vaccination, was installed with a default ‘inactive’ setting.

More than a million people could be affected by a deadly strain of meningitis due to an NHS IT blunder.

The Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF) has highlighted that this life threatening software error has resulted in the death of young people.

An NHS IT vaccine alert system was designed to notify GPs when a patient required a vaccination. However, this programme failed to activate for several years as the software was installed into GP’s systems at a default ‘inactive’ setting.

Health Minister Seema Kennedy said: “The protocol was not activated by default, but instructions were sent out for local activation.”

The programme was originally introduced to aid the distribution of the vaccine MenACWY to combat the rise of lethal meningococcal meningitis (MenW).

Those who are most at risk include teenagers and young adults who finished school in the years’ 2013, 2015, 2016 or 2017.

According to the alert system, which was developed by software provider EMIS, only 40% of this age group have received the crucial vaccine.

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NHS Digital highlighted that the EMIS alert was activated for GP Practices in April 2019.

An apprentice electrical engineer, 21-year-old Tim Mason, contracted meningitis in March 2018. He has not been invited to take the vaccine and subsequently died.

Chief executive at MRF, Vinny Smith, said: “It’s a tragedy for a young person to die from an illness that they should have been protected against through vaccination.

“It seems absurd to us that an emergency vaccination programme to protect young people against a lethal disease had systems in place that were switched off.

“It’s positive news from government that the alert has now been activated across England and that patients attending GP appointments opportunistically will now be made aware if they are eligible for the vaccine. It is vital that systems are improved so that this never happens again.”

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Sinead Donnelly


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