Booking a jab “as easy as booking a cab” in NHS App overhaul

The NHS is setting out how it will increase national uptake of lifesaving vaccinations, ensuring millions more people receive protection against a range of diseases.

Published today, the ambitious NHS vaccination strategy will outline how getting vaccinations will be made easier than ever before, including through expansion of the NHS App, ‘one stop shops’ and community outreach.

Millions more people will be able to view their full vaccination record and book in for vaccines on the NHS App over the coming months and years.

Expansion of the app will include improved access to medical records and putting a personal history of potentially life-saving vaccines such as HPV and MMR in the palm of people’s hands.

Improved booking features will include new in-App bookings, invitation alerts and appointment notifications, which NHS leaders say will make “booking a jab as easy as booking a cab”.

Parents of children and young people will increasingly be able to see the vaccination status of their children on the app and there will be new information and advice on how to book appointments.

Last week marked the anniversary of the world’s first ever Covid-19 vaccination – given to 93-year-old Maggie Keenan in Coventry on the 8 December 2020 – and today’s NHS vaccination strategy builds on the world-leading NHS Covid-19 vaccine programme, which allowed adults to book their own vaccine appointments online, and to get vaccinated in a range of non-NHS settings.

Health and care professionals will focus efforts on going into the heart of communities to protect unvaccinated people who are less well-served by traditional health services – taking vaccines close to people’s homes and offering in-person support to improve vaccine confidence, as well as offering the chance to get a jab.

This builds on the success of local outreach already happening across the country, such as school vaccination teams attending parents’ evenings to address barriers to providing consent for their children, pop-up family clinics at children’s hospitals, wellbeing hubs in shopping centres, and catch-up jabs and health checks for people living in temporary accommodation.

Vaccinations will become part of a ‘one-stop shop’ with NHS staff set to expand the offer of blood pressure tests and other health checks and advice, alongside routine vaccinations, while local health teams will have more flexibility to locate vaccine services in convenient local places such as community centres, sport facilities and places of worship.

Around nine in 10 children have had their pre-school immunisations and flu vaccination rates are among the highest in the world, but this new blueprint for vaccination will support even higher uptake rates and bring the NHS closer to eliminating serious diseases like cervical cancer.

Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of the NHS in England said: “Just over three years ago Maggie Keenan was the first person in the world to receive an approved covid-19 jab and since that momentous day, the NHS covid-19 vaccination programme has delivered over 156 million covid jabs and saved tens of thousands of lives – our vision for the future of vaccinations published today sets out how we plan to build on this huge success and save even more lives.

“Through the NHS app, we’ll make sure booking a jab can be as easy as booking a cab so millions more people can get vaccinated – users will be able to access their full vaccine status in a matter of seconds and book jabs with a simple swipe and tap.

“And we’ll continue to expand the amazing work of NHS staff, volunteers and partners to introduce even more pop-up sites in the heart of our local communities. So, when you are invited for any of your vaccinations, please do book without delay – it could be lifesaving.”

Steve Russell, national director for vaccinations and screening for NHS England, said: “Vaccination is one of the best ways to boost public health, second only to clean water, which is why our vaccine strategy takes vital lessons from our world-leading NHS Covid-19 vaccine programme and the extraordinary efforts of local teams who found innovative ways to reach people during the pandemic and saved thousands of lives.

“This includes taking vaccines into the heart of communities where we see lower uptake rates, so offering vaccines at pop-up clinics and health hubs in shopping centres, and local schools teams going into parents’ evenings to address barriers to people consenting to their child’s vaccinations.

“We want to see even more people supported to take up the offer of lifesaving vaccinations – it’s the best way to protect you and those around you from illnesses which can be fatal, so please do come forward if invited, and if you’re unsure or have questions, the NHS is here to help.”

Health Minister, Maria Caulfield said: “To ensure as many people get vaccinated as possible, we need to make sure the programme fits around people’s lives.

“The Vaccine Strategy will build on the brilliant work already underway to make it easier than ever to get vaccinated and to reach people who would not typically come forward for their jabs. Whether it’s booking via the app or stopping in while at parents evening with your children – we are unveiling new, innovative ways of getting these lifesaving jabs and easing pressure on the NHS.

“Get on the NHS App and see just how easy it is to get your jab.”

Over 33 million people are already signed up to the NHS App. Currently, most NHS App users can view their COVID and flu vaccination status via the NHS App, but the NHS will be increasing the visibility of routine vaccine-preventable diseases, making it easier for people to identify any missed vaccinations in their history.

Booking and receiving more than one vaccine in a single visit will also become easier, building on a big year-on-year increase in the number of winter flu and COVID-19 vaccines offered at the same time. This has been supported by a joint online and telephone booking service and by combined invitations, both for the first time, as part of the current winter vaccines campaign.

So far, more than four million people have had both seasonal vaccines together – with more than two fifths of COVID vaccines co-administered compared to less than a quarter last winter. This allows a quicker and more convenient experience for the public, particularly those living in rural or remote areas, and frees up NHS time to prioritise looking after people who are unwell.

Prof. Dame Jenny Harries, Chief Executive of UKHSA: “The link between uptake rates and vaccine confidence and accessibility is critical and I welcome this renewed focus by NHS England on innovative delivery approaches responding to local need.  Infectious diseases hit hardest on the most vulnerable and vaccination is a critical tool in reversing health inequalities.

“UKHSA will continue to work closely with the NHS to evaluate coverage and effectiveness of immunisation programmes, which will help inform future policy on the control of vaccine preventable disease.”

Cheshire and Merseyside NHS Foundation Trust is operating a Living Well bus – which travels into the heart of communities to ensure people can access COVID-19 vaccines, physical health checks alongside referrals to improving access to psychological therapies.

Linda McMullen, aged 70, hadn’t booked in for her covid vaccine this year but when the NHS Living Well Bus visited her local area Chapel Street in Southport, she decided to take up the offer and get vaccinated. She said:

“I was just passing – not previously having had my Covid vaccine this year. But I took the opportunity to have it as we were there shopping. Very convenient. Fantastic service, given all relevant information. Both nurses professional and friendly. I did not feel the injection being given!”

Geraldo Erímelia is in his 50s, and from Chapeltown in Leeds. He was unsure about having the vaccine and had been scared by misinformation he was seeing online. It wasn’t until he attended a workshop funded by the NHS vaccination deployment programme, that he decided to take up the offer of a covid vaccine last winter.

He said: “In my country we do not have a culture of taking vaccinations, and I saw a lot of social media telling me to avoid the covid vaccination. One day I attended a workshop with the Black Health Initiative, and they explained everything clearly and so I took it that same day.”

While Lloyd Dias, aged 40 from Chislehurst, was hesitant about getting his vaccine before receiving information from the NHS. He ended up getting vaccinated at a clinic at his local mosque. He said: “I was deeply sceptical about the vaccination, but my friends started to send me a lot of helpful information directly from the NHS, and this helped to convince me that it was safe. I ended up having my vaccination in my local mosque!”

Following cases of measles among unvaccinated children from within the Somali community, Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire (BNSSG) Integrated Vaccination Programme ran a community event for parents to learn about the MMR vaccine and ask questions from a panel of experts including a paediatrician, a consultant in infectious disease and translators. They worked with local community interest company, Caafi Health, to invite local families and offered a creche service and food.

Anne Morris, Chief Nurse and Operational Lead for the BNSSG Integrated Vaccination Programme, said: “It was a successful couple of hours with lots of insight into community concerns and worries and a valuable opportunity to hear from those with positive experiences of the MMR vaccine too. An outstanding session, giving the advisory panel and the local community opportunity to come together in a local setting.”

Louise Ansari, Chief Executive of Healthwatch England, said: “People who use the NHS App will welcome updates to make it easier to book essential vaccinations and access vaccine records.

“And many more should be supported to use the app so they can have the choice of managing aspects of their health digitally if they wish”.

Dr Farzana Hussain, a GP in Newham, East London, said: “I’m pleased to see the publication of the NHS vaccination strategy and the emphasis it puts on convenient access. We need to build on the successful and established ways of offering vaccines, looking to what works and what else we can do to evolve and innovate for the protection of our communities and particularly our underserved groups.”

Martin Hunt, Chief Executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust said: “We know that the HPV vaccination programme has been incredibly successful and has already led to an 87% decrease in cervical cancer incidence amongst women in their 20s, so we wholeheartedly support NHS ambitions to address disparities in uptake and reach underserved communities, and we welcome their plans to expand the NHS App.

“Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust know that improving access and education to drive vaccine uptake and overcome hesitancy will require a new style of partnership between the NHS, the voluntary sector, and the public. As the UK’s leading cervical cancer charity, we stand ready and determined in our commitment to support this new strategy.”

Rachel Power, Chief Executive of the Patients Association, said: “We welcome changes that make access to health services easier, so offering vaccinations in community locations is great news. Being able to check which vaccines you or your children have had via the NHS App will be popular with many people, as will the opportunity to book in for a vaccine appointment and get a reminder. These expansions of the App will help patients manage their health.”

Greg Fell, President of the Association of Directors of Public Health: “Vaccination is one of the biggest defences against disease and ill-health we have and so it is vital that everyone eligible is able to access vaccines, regardless of their background or wealth. We saw during the Covid-19 pandemic that this is not always as straightforward as sending out an invitation and also saw the devastating impact low vaccination rates can have on communities.

“As local leaders of health, Directors of Public Health have the knowledge and expertise about their areas, as well as the necessary relationships with a wide range of partners and stakeholders, to maximise uptake amongst their local population.

“This new strategy recognises both the need to address existing inequalities in vaccine uptake and the vital role that Directors of Public Health have in helping to overcome them. We look forward to supporting our colleagues in the NHS as they work to improve these inequalities to protect even more people from disease.”

Robin Tuddenham, CEO for Calderdale Council and NHS West Yorkshire Integrated Care Board, Place-lead for Calderdale said: “To achieve the ambitions of this important strategy, we need to build on the relationships and networks we have across integrated care systems, local places, neighbourhoods and communities. The pandemic has shown us that we are stronger when councils, the NHS, voluntary and community social enterprise sectors, and people who access care work together on infection prevention.

“Shaping the future delivery of NHS vaccination and immunisation services helps to set out the direction of travel and the importance of outreach services, designed to meet people’s needs and the opportunities for local partnerships.

“We need to make vaccination everyone’s business across all our health and care services.”

Dr Amit Aggarwal, ABPI Director of Medical Affairs said: “We support this comprehensive, ambitious, and thoughtful strategy, which will boost current arrangements and help improve everyone’s health.

“We know from the pandemic that a convenient ‘front door’ for vaccination is crucial, so it is right to focus on locally tailored action by multi-disciplinary teams. Using the opportunity of vaccination to offer a wider set of prevention services is also an important step forward. Too often, communities at the highest risk of vaccine-preventable diseases also have the lowest uptake of vaccines and the worst health outcomes.

“This plan is the right way forward. It will make it easier for people to be protected against disease, and help ensure no one is left behind on vaccination.”

Jacob Lant, Chief Executive at National Voices, said: “It’s great this strategy has learnt from the roll out of the Covid-19 vaccination. The focus on improved access to vaccinations, including for those who are digitally excluded, is welcome given we do hear from members that accessing care can be difficult. We are especially pleased to see the plans for targeted outreach to increase uptake in underserved populations as we know more needs to be done to reduce vaccine hesitancy in some. As just one example, plans to eradicate cervical cancer, cannot be achieved without dedication to tackling vaccination health inequalities.”