How Microsoft Azure powered NHS England’s Covid-19 vaccine roll-out

Alice Chambers
Alice Chambers
By Alice Chambers on 29 July 2022
How Microsoft Azure powered NHS England’s Covid-19 vaccine roll-out
Microsoft

Microsoft Azure has helped more than 125 million Covid-19 vaccination doses to be administered to people in England since the end of 2020.

The UK Government’s vaccine deployment was among the fastest in the world and the NHS’s efforts to encourage people to sign up for the Covid-19 vaccine was supported by tools and services that were powered by the Microsoft Azure cloud platform.

NHS Digital’s National Booking Service, the online system that allows members of the public to book their Covid-19 vaccinations, was deployed on the National Immunisation Management System (NIMS). The system, which went live on 1 September 2020, is an Azure-based solution that was developed by System C Healthcare, Graphnet Health and Liquidlogic.  

NIMS is a database that provides a near-real-time view of UK citizens’ vaccination eligibility and vaccination records. This information helps to identify priority patients, which inoculations are recommended for use, and the type and number of vaccines that people have had. Microsoft partners Accenture and Avanade were responsible for the roll-out of the system. While Microsoft hosts NIMS data in the Azure cloud, it does not have access to its information due to patient confidentiality.  

The booking system quickly accepts or rejects people’s vaccine booking attempts based on their eligibility. Once approved, patients can then book appointments at nearby vaccination centres and receive confirmations and reminders via email or text. The system also has a built-in queuing system to help with demand, implemented by ACF Technologies.

“We started the project with the government saying that there could be 20 million patients a week going through our system,” said Simon Ronald, vice president of business development at ACF Technologies. “But in the beginning, when the first 100 vaccination locations were being deployed, we didn’t need to support that many bookings. But then, of course, things ramped up, to the point where we were processing up to 500,000 bookings an hour. So, Azure’s instant ability to flex and scale-up is absolutely key in making sure the system holds up in peak periods. We need to be confident that we’re using a platform like Azure that can survive an unknown amount of demand.

“The tools provided by Azure allowed us to develop and deploy a project that was bigger than anything we’ve ever done before, in such a short space of time. Given the crunch, you’d expect a certain level of risk that would lead to problems developing. But there was none. We didn’t come across any issues.”

Additionally, GP practices contacted eligible patients to encourage them to make a vaccination appointment. This system was powered by Accurx’s accuBook, which allows GPs to communicate with patients using video calls, surveys and digital documentation. Accurx used Azure to build its vaccination booking solution in four weeks.

“We were shipping products and moving faster than we had ever done before,” said Laurence Bargery, chief technology officer and co-founder of Accurx. “The fact that at the flick of a switch we could scale our database, our web servers and release so quickly was a huge factor in our success. In addition, Azure has lots of great ways to keep data safe and secure, including granular permissions access to Azure resources or resource groups, automatic detection systems for suspicious behaviour, and using KeyVault to secure information.”

Read more about Microsoft’s involvement in the Covid-19 vaccine roll-out.

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