Scottish vaccine status app: Sturgeon cites ‘NHS system error’

Written by Joseph Anderson and Sam Trendall on 6 October 2021 in News

First minister fends off continued criticism from political rivals

Credit: Fraser Bremner/Scottish Daily Mail/PA Wire/PA Images

Scottish Government first minister has Nicola Sturgeon has cited an issue with NHS IT systems as a major cause of the problems encountered by the country’s vaccine passport app.  

At Nicola Sturgeon’s first weekly Covid update since the troubled launch of the vaccine passport app, she reiterated that the enforcement of the vaccine passport regulations will not commence until 18 October.  

The app became available for download on Thursday evening last week; the following morning marked the commencement of the legal requirement for nightclubs and large events to ask attendees to prove their vaccine status. 

Shortly after the technology was launched, many users began reporting that the program was unable to access their vaccination records, and instead presented them with an error message: “Something went wrong. We’re working on it.”

According to the Holyrood leader, issues resulting from problems with health-service tech platforms were exacerbated by demand for the app, which generated 170,000 downloads in its first two days of availability. 

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“Essentially the high level of demand after the launch of the app – combined with an error in one part of the NHS system – meant that information wasn't being sent quickly enough from the NHS system to the app,” she said. “This also, for a period, caused problems for those requesting paper copies of vaccination certificates, or seeking to download a PDF.”

The first minister said that the “initial backlog” of users unable to access their data via the app had been cleared by Saturday afternoon. Work is ongoing to monitor and improve the performance of the program.

On Sunday, a Scottish Government spokesperson told the BBC: “We are aware of some teething issues which are primarily down to the volume of requests and urgent work is underway to resolve this. We expect the problems, and the associated backlog, to be cleared within the next couple of days. A further fix has been identified and is being tested."

In the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday, opposition leaders took the opportunity to berate the Holyrood leader for the calamitous rollout.  

Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross described the launch as “an utter shambles”, and asked how the Scottish Government did not foresee the demand for the app when it was handing over £600,000 to the app’s developers.  

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar accused the first minister of “making this up as she goes along”, as he questioned why COP26 attendees will only have to show a negative lateral flow test, while Scottish residents must show proof of vaccination to attend gigs and sporting events.  

Sturgeon explained the unpredictability of the winter period led to her government’s development of the vaccine passport app, explaining: “We do not know – no country does – what pressure we're going to be under the coming winter. This is the first winter where we will have Covid circulating and no lockdown.” 

She added: “It is prudent to have in place proportionate steps so that we have the best possible chance of keeping cases under control.” 

Sturgeon responded that “on the certification scheme, I've made it clear that I don't consider the launch of the app to be remotely satisfactory” and further highlighted the gap between legislation being passed and the enforcement of the regulations in order to allow for issues to be fixed.  

On the requirement of attendees to COP26, Sturgeon said that her government is working with the organisers and attendees from other nations.


About the author

Joseph Anderson is a reporter for PublicTechnology sister publication Holyrood, where a version of this story first appeared. He tweets as @janderson_news.


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