Every year influenza has a major impact on the NHS during winter months. Flu kills. Each year, on average it is responsible for 11,000 extra and avoidable deaths in the UK and hospitalises many more.
In response to this, the UK government expanded the annual flu plan and launched the National Immunisation flu programme which at the time was the biggest public health exercise (before COVID-19). The UK’s deputy chief medical officer, Jonathan Van Tam said, ‘The flu vaccine is more important than ever, to help reduce transmission of flu and protect the nation from the double threat of flu and COVID-19.’
To enable the plan, SCW was commissioned in July 2020 by NHS England to deliver a NHS Immunisation Management Service to support the flu programme. The primary objective of our IMS solution was to optimise the uptake of the flu vaccine to new cohorts of citizens across the UK.
Using the experience and expertise gained from our work in Child Health Information Services (CHIS), we implemented an NHS Immunisation Management Service to contact prioritised citizens nationally through a series of letters and reminder telephone calls, to encourage them to book their flu jab.
Fundamental to SCW providing the IMS solution was the system and infrastructure which would select and manage the communications to the priority groups. Our National Immunisation Management Solution (NIMS) platform would identify the cohorts and schedule the contact.
Providing the NHS IMS solution was not only a vital part in preventing two of the biggest threats to public health, but it was also the largest programme that SCW had delivered.
Some of the key elements in delivering the service were:-
- Mobilising a team - SCW drew on experience from providing CHIS and rapidly assembled a multi-disciplined team to provide a national solution. Experts in informatics and IT infrastructure, data analytics, communications, improving immunisation uptake and managing outbound call centres ran interdependent workstreams to deliver against our plan.
- Data management and analytics – using our NIMS data capability, NHS England data was analysed and segmented with accuracy, but also at speed to flexibly target priority groups with tailored communications to remind people to book their vaccination.
- Citizen contact (Call) – working with specialist suppliers, personalised letters containing NHS numbers (and across new cohort groups as required) were mailed to over 21 million people.
- Outbound calling (Recall) –Telephony IT was selected and deployed to stand up a national call centre working remotely. Over 180 professional call handlers were recruited, trained and then tasked to make over 1 million calls.
- Regional improving immunisation uptake support – SCW recruited and seconded a team to provide improving immunisation uptake support in each of the seven NHS regions. This resource supported local flu leads, providing data analysis and reporting to enable NHS regions to identify areas and groups with low uptake of the flu vaccine. This enabled targeted interventions to appropriately maximise flu vaccination uptake.
The national flu programme has been acknowledged as a success. Official statistics from the government’s National flu and COVID-19 surveillance reports show achievements in the important groups of citizens targeted:
- In clinical At Risk groups uptake was 52.5% and higher than the same time in the last seven seasons. Improving uptake in this group was the main objective for our outbound calls
- In people aged 65 years and over uptake was 80.8% - the highest uptake ever achieved
- In 2- and 3-year-old children vaccination rates were also the highest ever recorded
- In pregnant women, uptake was at 43.7%, which is higher than the same time last season
- 50- to 64-year-olds were a new group eligible for a free jab on 1 Dec 2020 and 34.1% were immunised
SCW facts and figures
Our own figures underline our part in these successes in more detail:
- Over 21 million letters to citizens were mailed
- Over 1 million outbound calls were made over 117 days
- 280 call centre staff were recruited and trained with…a further 120 recruited to provide a COVID-19 outbound call centre capability
- Dashboard insight - breakdown reporting to drill down regional vaccination uptake by cohort, geography, demography and even GP practice level
- Training and progression – many of the new starters were promoted into supervisory positions. Positive team culture was the route to successful calling and a patient-first philosophy.
The success of the project and the IMS programme has been recognised in feedback from our customers at NHS regional level to the regional IMS team.
The feedback from the NHS England Flu Vaccination Programme Lead for the London region has been overwhelmingly positive. London is traditionally an area with low immunisation success.
Without a doubt, the recall service making telephone calls to the 2- to 3-year-old cohort contributed to our best uptake performance. NHS local flu lead covering the London area.
In North East & Yorkshire, flu leads believe IMS regional team support and reporting helped them achieve a much better understanding of Flu uptake in their areas.
The North West region has praised the benefits of daily 'ground-level' intelligence being provided by the IMS regional support team.
The Midlands region saw its best rates of flu uptake ever. Midlands has stated they intend to use data provided by the IMS team to inform CCGs how they might ‘do things differently’ next year in order to further improve flu vaccination uptake performance.
We have been asking for something like this, which provides all the data including information around demographics and ethnicity in one place, for years. Key public health consultant when referring to IMS team reporting in Midlands.
Helping with flu Call and Recall and assisting with data analysis has been a really beneficial change this year and which we want to continue in the future. - Emma Giles, East of England Contracting Support Manager (flu) and Oliver Jackson, Head of Flu Programme Delivery East of England NHSE/I.
Read more about our NHS Immunisation Management Service.