This site is intended for health professionals only

NHS appraisals website overwhelmed as GPs rush to meet deadlines

By Steve Nowottny

The troubled NHS Appraisals Toolkit website was hit by fresh problems over the weekend as unprecedented numbers of users tried to log on to complete overdue appraisals.

GPs reported being unable to log in to their account, while the speed of the site slowed to a crawl after five times as many users as usual tried to access their accounts. Some also said they had been unable to get through to the site's helpdesk, which has been deluged with more than 800 calls.

The appraisals website went back online last Thursday more than three weeks after an emergency shutdown due to security concerns. But the suspension has left many GPs facing looming appraisal deadlines, with a Pulse investigation finding that a third of trusts had been forced cancel or reschedule appraisals.

The scale of the latest problems prompted the NHS Appraisal Toolkit Team to send out an email to users late Saturday afternoon admitting it was unable to reply individually to the 'high volume' of queries it had received, and asking GPs to try coming back to the site at a less busy time.

It said: ‘We are aware that some users are experiencing problems with the speed of the ATK website and upgrading their passwords. We are very sorry, but the site is slow because there are currently five times more people than usual trying to use it.'

‘As the rush to use the site calms down, the system will return to its normal speed. If you do not need to use ATK at the moment, you may wish to upgrade your password when the site is less busy.'

A switch to case-sensitive usernames was reported as a particular problem by some GPs.

Dr Stephen Doyle, a GP in Horwich, near Bolton, said: ‘You have to log in with your log in name starting with a capital letter. They haven't told anyone this, just to keep you sharp.'

And Dr Mark McCartney, a GPC member and GP in Pensilva, Cornwall, said he only found out that his username was now case-sensitive after faxing through his details and a wait of several hours.

‘After I logged in the site was very slow, so I have not had the time to check all my details. I have asked my appraiser if he is willing to do the appraisal without the paperwork, but do not expect a positive reply.

'I am sorry that I ever used the Toolkit. This has been an inconvenience but I am greatly concerned by the security risks, both in the past and for future systems.'

A Department of Health spokesperson said: 'We have been informed that there have been very high numbers of users logging in to the NHS Appraisal Toolkit site over the weekend. The enhanced security of the site has meant some users have needed to make changes to their user names and passwords.'

'We are aware that this is a busy period for doctors undertaking appraisal activity and the Appraisal Toolkit Helpline dealt with around 800 calls after the site went back on line last week.'

The NHS Appraisals Toolkit website was hit by fresh problems over the weekend