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NHS appraisals website still not ‘usable’, IT chiefs admit

By Steve Nowottny

Thousands of GPs are still struggling to complete overdue appraisals after major technical problems with the NHS Appraisal Toolkit website, two weeks after it went back online.

The team behind the site admitted this week it was still not in a ‘usable' state, with GPs unable to log on or save appraisals, broken links and a malfunctioning spellchecker.

On average more than 5,000 users a day have been trying to use the site since it went back online on 4 March, following a three week emergency shutdown due to security concerns - more than twice the pre-shutdown average of 2,000 users a day.

But with deadlines looming, many have been simply unable to access their appraisal, or have experienced technical problems while using the system.

In a frank email to appraisal toolkit users on Tuesday, the NHS Appraisal Toolkit Team from the Sowerby Centre for Health Informatics at Newcastle (SCHIN) acknowledged the widespread problems, and said they were ‘very sorry' about the inconvenience caused.

‘I can assure you we are trying our best to get the service in a usable form as fast as possible,' the email said.

Dr Joanne Bailey, deputy chair of the GPC's IT subcommittee, told Pulse: ‘Within the GPC we've had discussions about how clunky and slow it's been since it came back up, and how there were at times very severe problems when logging in.'

‘All of this meant GPs were having to spend an awful lot of time completing the forms and so on. On a personal level it was very frustrating everything taking so long and not really knowing what was going on.'

However Dr Bailey said she was ‘very pleased' that the toolkit team had issued an apology, and said she had subsequently managed to complete her own personal appraisal yesterday.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: ‘We understand from SCHIN that a number of users are experiencing some difficulties with the NHS Appraisal Toolkit. This has been caused by the unusually high usage since the re-launch.'

‘SCHIN has reassured us that they are taking steps to overcome these difficulties, including putting in a new web server, and they should be resolved by the end of the week.'

The spokesperson refused to say how much SCHIN is being paid to run the site, or whether the DH would be looking to obtain contractual compensation after the recent disruption to users, citing commercial confidentiality.

SCHIN, originally formed as an academic research organisation within the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, is now a not-for-profit private company and part of the Clarity Informatics Group.

The NHS Appraisals Toolkit website has yet to be restored to a 'usable form'