Number of unvaccinated NHS staff ‘grossly overestimated’ due to data collection issues

The number of unvaccinated staff in the NHS is likely to have been overstated due to data collection issues, The Independent has been told.

Around 77,000 healthcare workers have yet to receive a single Covid vaccine dose, according to the NHS. However, sources and experts claim this figure includes vaccinated staff whose status has been incorrectly recorded in the national database.

One insider at a major London trust said “we’ve had people who’ve had the vaccine but aren’t on the national list”, while another trust source said there have been examples at their hospitals of staff being wrongly identified as unvaccinated in records.

An NHS data expert said “human error” was likely to blame. “I’ve heard a lot of people say that the [77,000] figure is a gross overestimate,” said Dr Neil Bhatia, an official responsible for ensuring that NHS data protocol is followed, otherwise known as a Caldicott guardian.

“There is clear potential for people to be misaccused of not being vaccinated. That is down to the fact that there’s been some error in recording their vaccination wherever it was given because obviously, at one point, you could go almost anywhere in England and have a vaccine.”

This comes as the government rolled back on its plans to impose a mandatory vaccination policy within the NHS. This means tens of thousands of staff who are unvaccinated will likely be able to carry on working, having previously been warned that they would be fired if they hadn’t received a first dose by 3 February.

Ministers have been facing pressure to drop the mandate for months amid fears it will lead to a major staffing crisis at a time when the NHS is continuing to battle Covid-19 and work its way through a huge patient backlog.

Putting together a clear picture of how many staff in the NHS are vaccinated and unvaccinated has proven difficult.

Over the weekend, NHS trust leaders told The Independent that were “gaping holes” in the national data collection, meaning that some trusts are still unaware of exactly how many staff have yet to receive a vaccine.

Hospital bosses have been asked to “trace” staff members’ personal NHS numbers through a national database, called the Personal Demographic Service, which holds all of the patient information across the country.

Now, it’s emerged that these data collection issues are also giving the impression that some vaccinated staff have yet to receive the jab.

The source from the London trust said: “There are gaps. And some people had the vaccine over a year ago. I would imagine that it affects all trusts. It can’t be just mine.”

Dr Bhatia, who is also a GP, said the inconsistencies in vaccine data recording could be to do with “people putting in the wrong dates, or there’s a problem with the clinic and somebody gave a vaccination but forgot to enter it on the system.

“Sometimes clinics are so busy that some of these things weren’t recorded. We’ve been asked to record ethnicity and all sorts of stuff. You were desperately trying to get through the sheer numbers, so I don’t know how accurate the recording was.”

At a primary care level, there have been incidents of patients turning up for a second dose, only for records to state that they haven’t received their first jab yet, Dr Bhatia added.

“We certainly have had plenty of people come in and then we say, ‘Well, why did you come to your second? We don’t have a record of you having your first’ and they’ll say, ‘No, I had my first. It was definitely done’.

“There’s nothing that we were easily able to find to prove they’d had a first dose. We just had to take it upon faith. It was totally reliant on me on the data entry at the time of clinics that were, to be honest, totally overwhelmed by people who were just about learning how to use a system that had a habit of crashing on you in the middle of clinics, so you could easily lose vaccination data.”

The NHS said that its latest data shows 95 per cent of staff have been vaccinated and that this number is increasing every day. NHS national medical director Professor Stephen Powis said: “The overwhelming majority of staff in NHS organisations, nine in 10, have already had their second jab, and NHS employers will continue to support and encourage staff who have not yet been vaccinated.”

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