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Tim Mason's family help reveal NHS IT blunder exposing young people to risk of deadly meningitis strain

More than one million young people have been left at risk of a deadly meningitis strain following an NHS IT blunder.

This week it emerged a system designed to notify GPs that a patient should be invited for a vaccination was switched off for years due to fears of "alert fatigue".

The alert system, designed by software provider EMIS, was introduced to help with the distribution of the vaccine MenACWY to the rise of lethal meningococcal meningitis (MenW).

Tim Mason died after doctors at Tunbridge Wells Hospital missed signs of sepsis (4838367)
Tim Mason died after doctors at Tunbridge Wells Hospital missed signs of sepsis (4838367)

The vaccination was introduced in August 2015 for teenagers and young people to stop a rapid rise in a new and particularly deadly strain of meningococcal meningitis (MenW).

Tim Mason, from Tunbridge Wells, was 21 when he died from meningococcal sepsis. In March 2018 he was sent home from Tunbridge Wells Hospital to die after doctors missed symptoms.

His family later discovered that the alert GPs should have been using had been inactive.

Tim Mason's parents, Gavin and Fiona, outside court (5121108)
Tim Mason's parents, Gavin and Fiona, outside court (5121108)

Tim's mum Fiona said: "The system failed Tim in more than one way. He should have received a letter from the GP calling him in for his vaccine which would have prevented him getting MenW in the first place, but no letter was ever received.

"Tim had attended several GP appointments during the years after the vaccine was introduced in the UK. Had the EMIS alert been activated, he would have been flagged to staff at those appointments as a patient eligible for the vaccine. This didn’t happen.

“Having contracted the disease, the symptoms he was displaying should have triggered a sepsis alert when we first took him to hospital.

“All we can do now is try to raise awareness of these issues and make sure improvements are made to stop this happening to other families.”

Teenagers who left school year 13 in 2015, 2016 or 2017 needed to get their free vaccine from their GP, but uptake among that group has been worryingly low. Latest data from May 2018 shows that only around 40% of this age group have taken up the vaccine.

Fiona, along with husband Gavin, have been working with Meningitis Research Foundation to investigate the issues with the vaccination programme further.

EMIS told the charity that the alert for the MenACWY vaccine was released as inactive to avoid "alert fatigue".

Health Minister Seema Kennedy said: “The protocol was not activated by default, but instructions were sent out for local activation. In response to your letter, it has been agreed that this alert will be enabled for all EMIS users in England.”

NHS Digital has now confirmed that the EMIS alert was enabled for GP Practices in England at the beginning of April.

Vinny Smith, Chief Executive at Meningitis Research Foundation said: “It’s a tragedy for a young person to die from an illness that they should have been protected against through vaccination.

“It seems absurd to us that an emergency vaccination programme to protect young people against a lethal disease had systems in place that were switched off."

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