England made it possible: how the vaccination booking system was developed in 4 weeks
Within a month, the UK delivered a system that helped its citizens to book a vaccine appointment and began to fight the Covid-19 virus.
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit the UK, the context of quarantine and being limited to exercise-only essential activities brought a dark cloud over the British sky. At that moment, an effective and safe vaccine seemed improbable.
And yet, on December 8th, 2020 the first non-clinical trial Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was administrated. A solution that was only eight and a half months away from the first lockdown.
Nowadays, the total number of vaccines given in the United Kingdom is 151.248.820 doses. A number that at the beginning appeared to be unrealistic, but with team effort and short-term and long-term goals, turned out to be possible.
To make this tangible, the first step was to make a trustworthy and functional system for people to book a vaccine appointment, get vaccinated, and count on the health system to make a follow-up in order to know which the following steps were; such as the number of doses needed and its booking dates.
Having that in mind, the next step was to build a digital booking service, a task led by the NHS. The NHS Digital’s National Booking Service needed to ensure that only eligible people could be vaccinated. To be able to do so, the system needed to assess and, based on the eligibility of each citizen, accept or reject them within seconds. And that was only the first challenge to overcome because after being vaccinated, the health system needed to keep track of every person, how many shots they’ve received, and when the next dose needed to be booked. The selected solution to make this system a reality was the Azure-based Q-Flow system implemented by ACF Technologies. The Q-Flow system needed to handle immense pressure due to millions of people using it simultaneously.
ACF Technologies' alliance with NHS and Microsoft Azure
NHS and Microsoft partnered with ACF Technologies to provide an effective digital booking service. The goal was (and still is) to bring digital and fast solutions to UK’s citizens by making it easier for them to get vaccinated and stay safe.
Given the number of people living in the United Kingdom, and to give everyone easy access to book their vaccination through the digital booking service, the National Booking Service built a queuing system. This aimed to provide patients with their position in the queue and the estimated time they have to wait to book an appointment. Overall, the Q-Flow system is also used by vaccination centres to register, open new locations, and oversee the checking-in of patients and staff logins.
This was an excellent challenge for ACF Technologies. In the words of the Managing Director of the company in the UK, Andy Hart: “an individual can go on to the website, have an appointment booking. But it’s not just about the individual going on; it’s also about all of the systems and processes behind it”.
To be able to trust the system and provide a service without any crushings or failures due to high demand was a risk that needed to be eliminated.
Azure’s stability and ability to increase or decrease capacity depending on demand proved critical
In a video that shares the experience of team members of ACF, Laurence Leach, Technical Director of ACF Technologies UK, shares: “we knew how big COVID was, and we kind of realise that this is going to be for the whole country. And when the NHS through some of the figures saying you need to do this for half a million appointments an hour, we realized we’ve never done anything this big before”.
The Q-Flow system needed from Azure “its instant ability to flex,” says Simon Ronald, vice-president of business development at ACF Technologies. So, given the challenges and risks, Simon thought that developing this vaccination booking system would take at least ten months. Still, millions of people relied on it, and no one could wait that long.
In partnership with the development team in NHS Digital, the ACF team worked long hours non-stop to build a project that could work and be reliable in not ten months but one. Teamwork and outstanding results: the vaccination booking system worked flawlessly.
About taking action
Every team member knew how risky it was to get involved in this project. But not only the lives of the British were at risk, but this was also about telling the world that a digital, easy, and trusting system was and is possible.
By developing a booking system that helps people book their appointment, get vaccinated, and make a follow-up from anywhere, ACF shows the importance of a healthcare system that thinks in the future and the opportunities technological developments give to the medical world.
An award-winning project
Thanks to the great job of everyone, this project give us the opportunity to win the Global Good Awards in the Covid crisis champions, you can see the ceremony in the next video.