Patients are calling practices to address issues in registering for the NHS App so they can avail of its new vaccine passport feature, adding to their already ‘immense workload’, GPs have warned.
As of last week, patients in England have been able to prove their Covid vaccination status by using the NHS App or by requesting physical copies, with over 1.3 million new people having registered since this feature was announced on 7 May, according to the Government.
Unlike other apps with the vaccine passport feature, practices do not need to enable record-sharing access for it to work, but GPs have said that the implementation of the app has led to increased workload in other areas.
NHS England has also advised that patients with missing or incomplete vaccine information on their records should contact their GP.
Patients have also approached GP practices for help verifying their identity, which is required during the sign-up process.
To prove who they are, the app asks patients to take a photo of their ID, record their face using their device and to enter their NHS number if they know it.
Hampshire GP Dr Neil Bhatia told Pulse some patients are ‘put off’ by this and would rather gain access via their GP.
He said: ‘It may be that you’re not happy to do that, or you don’t have a passport or it’s expired. If you say you don’t have a photo ID, it will tell you to contact your GP surgery to get login details.
‘We’re getting quite a few everyday who don’t seem to be able to register with the NHS App without having to come to us, which somewhat defeats the purpose’.
Patients who are struggling to use the app, or do not have the right technology ,have also been asking their practice ‘what do we do now’ given that GPs ‘are their only real point of contact’, Gateshead and South Tyneside LMC chair Dr Paul Evans told Pulse.
He said: ‘A few patients have a low level of tech literacy. Quite a few are on non-smartphones that don’t allow that sort of functionality. They ask what we can do if [they] don’t have a phone that can accommodate the app. Others have the kit, but say it isn’t working for whatever reason – it’s freezing or it isn’t showing the vaccinations we’ve had.;
Dr Evans said that these queries are ‘definitely placing a burden upon reception teams’, adding it is also causing phone line issues, as ‘patents are complaining that they have to wait longer on hold to speak to a human being about their normal GMS care’.
Patients have also come forward to say they were unable to register with the NHS App, with GP practice staff later finding that the issue had been caused by some patient data on EMIS being different to that held on the spine, according to Bristol GP partner Dr Simon Bradley.
He said: ‘The app takes its details from the spine, and something may have been updated on one or the other, and they may not have been synchronised.
‘It may be that their email address has changed or that a mobile number has changed, and it has not been updated on the spine. Then you have an option to choose “is the spine correct or is the practice correct”, and then it overwrites. But the practice has to do that.’
Besides using the NHS App, patients can also contact 119 to request a vaccination status letter, but where this cannot be issued – for example due to missing or incomplete vaccine information – they will be sent a letter advising them to contact their GP practice, NHS England said in a primary care bulletin sent yesterday (25 May).
It added: ‘To manage workload, we recognise that GP practices may not be able to address all of the errors on behalf of their patients, and contact details for the vaccines support desk and vaccination data quality support team are also provided within the guidance.’
It said that any changes to a patient’s vaccination record ‘should only be made in the Vaccination Point of Care system and not in the GP Clinical system’.
An NHS Digital spokesperson said: ‘The NHS App helps to relieve pressure on primary care because people can access the services and information they need without having to contact their GP.
‘The NHS App is a simple and secure way for people to access a range of NHS services on their smartphone or tablet, as well as via a computer.’
NHS Digital said GP practices can find a range of support to help with the NHS App, including training courses and a toolkit on the NHS Digital website, and that practices needing further support can contact the NHS App team.
GP leaders had previously warned that any Covid vaccination passport scheme must add ‘zero workload’ for practices.
As well as accessing their Covid-19 vaccine status, patients can use the NHS App to book GP appointments, view their GP and hospital records and order repeat prescriptions.
Dr Bradley said there are ‘significant advantages’ for general practice in having patients use the NHS App, particularly to order and being able to track the progress of prescriptions.
But he added: ‘It’s a bad time to be doing this, because we are immensely busy.’
Patients can also access their vaccination status via the EMIS Patient Access app and the myGP app but – unlike the official NHS App – GP practices need to have granted each user access to the immunisations/vaccinations section of their medical record.