After an amazing digital journey through Covid, there’s still work to be done says health service IT chief

Come fly with me


When it comes to testing technology on users Deryck Mitchelson turned to an unusual focus group. He asked his elderly mum and dad to register their house as a venue for the NHS’s national Covid “check in” app. “Tey managed it and they’re in their 80s,” laughs Mitchelson, director of national digital and information security, NHS National Services Scotland (NSS). “Tey registered and had it up on the wall - they were checking in and out of their own home.” Laughter aside, Mitchelson’s

team has also been responsible for a range of nationally impor- tant digital projects including the deployment of the Protect Scotland contact tracing app and now – just weeks away from launch – a new digital vaccine certificate. As another cloud-based project,

which similar to the check in app uses Microsoft Azure (as opposed to Amazon AWS for Protect Scotland), the project is being overseen by another technology supplier, which had the right suite of products to match the brief. When rolled out soon the as-

yet-unnamed app will also enable people to carry a part of their own medical record around with them, which Mitchelson believes could well be an NHS “first”. It is a long way from where the NHS was pre- Covid, he insists, and testament to the herculean efforts of a national

and local workforce which has embraced technology as a way to carry on functioning through the pandemic. Already, around 200,000 user

licences for Microsoft 365 have been issued – getting the workforce up and running on Teams – and public-facing apps have been devel- oped at breakneck speed. Once the new app joins the fam-

ily – they are all separate, based on different privacy and data require- ments – it will be three apps that people in Scotland can access to help them navigate an increasingly digital post-Covid world. Mitchelson says the app will also

compliment the existing service offered via the national Covid call handling helpline, where people can phone and ask for a certificate which attests to their vaccination status: the use case for such a document is self-evidently linked to foreign travel and acts as “proof” that a traveller has been jabbed, but there are an in- creasing number of scenarios being looked at by policymakers for where they may be required. “Te digital one has a few more

benefits obviously,” says Mitchelson. “It will check your status and tie into testing as well. Te certificate will just be a vaccination record but the online version will also know if your vaccination has expired or if you have had a test, for example.” He adds: “Te ecosystem is all

integrated but there are different components managed in different


A digital certificate will link back to the data to verify a vaccination

spaces. Te key thing among them is that we can securely integrate running it all through an API (ap- plication programming interface) service, so it’s able to pull the vaccination records, and the testing records, because we are sharing information across different parts of the health service. Integration is the critical piece.”

It will also transmit the information to GPs, who will be able to see whether where and when their patients have been vaccinated, including at their own surgery or a massive vaccination centre like the one at the SSE Hydro in Glasgow. With it thought to be the first

time a medical record has been is- sued digitally to citizens security is front of mind. “I’ve got a full-time security consultant looking at the vaccine certificate app, every day, all day,” adds Mitchelson. “And a full-time information governance team speaking to the ICO (Informa- tion Commissioner) so privacy and security will be built into the app – it’s absolutely at the start by design. It’s the right way of doing this.” Te app is being developed in

parallel to other services across the home nations of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. And all are working towards international standards designed by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

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