The NHS Covid-19 Vaccination programme continues to make strong progress, with everyone in the first seven priority groups now having been invited or due to be invited soon, and over 21 million people in England receiving their vital first dose.
On Tuesday 9 March the National Booking Service started to trial a text message service for Covid-19 vaccination invitations, sending messages to over 400,000 people aged 55 or in receipt of Carer’s Allowance. This successful trial was followed by the sending of text messages to those people in Cohort 6 due to an underlying health condition who have not yet had a vaccine recorded.
From Wednesday 17 March, the National Booking Service will start to send text messages to people aged 50-54
People receiving these text messages will be invited to book online at nhs.uk/covid-vaccination or by calling 119, for an appointment at a local Vaccination Centre or pharmacy-led site.
Why the NHS is using text message invites and reminders
There are a number of benefits to using text messages as a means of inviting eligible individuals to book their vaccination appointment.
Firstly, the time from a decision to offer vaccines to people in a priority group and an individual in that group receiving their invitation could be reduced to two days by using text messages, allowing the NHS to more quickly react to changing levels of vaccine supply.
Secondly, as the NHS progresses through the age-based priority groups, we know that the people we are inviting are much more likely to use their mobile phones for a range of different uses. According to the ONS, more than nine in 10 adults aged 16 to 54 accessed the internet via their mobile phone in 2019, compared to just four in 10 while for those aged 65 and over. Text messages with simple links and instructions are therefore likely to prove a very effective way of communicating with this group.
Finally, the NHS is planning now for how a Covid-19 vaccination programme can be delivered in a more routine way in the future, if this is needed. Communicating digitally wherever possible could help the programme to be delivered more efficiently, potentially reducing the environmental and financial cost of printed and delivered letters, while bearing in mind that some people will still prefer to receive information by post.
How it will work
The National Immunisation Management Service (NIMS) extracts contact details for eligible patients who have an NHS number and are registered with a GP when a decision is made to offer vaccines to the group they are in.
Up to now this has just been their registered postal address, so that letters can be printed and sent to them. Where a mobile phone number can be obtained from someone’s GP records, they will also be sent a short SMS text message with the key details of how to book.
The text message will be sent using the Government’s secure Notify service. They will appear as being sent from NHSvaccine; this name has been protected so it can’t be used by any other text messaging service.
The initial invite message for this group will read:
NHSVaccine- You are now eligible for your free NHS coronavirus vaccination. Please book online at https://www.nhs.uk/covid-vaccination or by calling 119. You will need to provide your name, date of birth and postcode. Your phone number has been obtained from your GP records.
The initial invite message for Cohort 6 read:
NHS vaccine booking service: You are eligible for a free COVID-19 vaccination because of an underlying health condition. The vaccine is the best way to protect yourself from COVID-19. If you haven’t already booked with a local GP you can book now at https://www.nhs.uk/covid-vaccination or by calling 119.
In common with the letter invites, the text messages will invite people to book online at nhs.uk/covid-vaccination or by calling 119, for an appointment at a local Vaccination Centre or pharmacy-led site.
Interplay with other invites
This batch of text messages will go to up to two million people. A similar number of texts were sent to Cohort 6 with underlying health conditions in the previous batch of text message invites.
They are assumed to be in addition to invites which people in this group should already have received from local GP-led vaccination services.
An individual should not receive a text message (or a letter) from the NHS if they have already been vaccinated and this has been recorded.
As has been the case throughout, if people cannot or would prefer not to travel to a Vaccination Centre or pharmacy-led site, they can choose to wait to be invited by a local GP-led service.
As this is a new initiative, and there has been some previous coverage of fraudulent and scam text messages, some patients may be wary of receiving a text message from the NHS, and in a small number of cases may seek to ask their local health professionals about it.
Below are some key messages and Q&As to help
Q: Why is the NHS doing this?
Text messages are already being used by local vaccination services.The NHS National Booking Service is using this approach to see whether it helps to reach eligible individuals and encourage them to book their appointment faster than the letters used so far, and whether receiving an invite in this way is preferable for those in younger age groups.
Q: How does the national NHS know my mobile number?
The NHS has been using contact details – including addresses and now mobile phone numbers – given to us by patients and recorded in their GP patient record.
Q: I share a mobile phone with others in my household – how do we know which of us is invited?
If you share a mobile phone with other adults then you can try to book online. If you are not eligible yet then the booking system will not let you book until you are.
Q: I’ve received a text message invite from my GP or local hospital, is this the same?
No. This service is in addition to the texts sent out by some local services.
If you have received a text message or any other kind of invite from another vaccination service and have booked an appointment, then please ignore the text messages.
Q: I booked after receiving a text message but no letter came – does this mean I have fallen for a scam?
Not necessarily. If your text message came from ‘NHSvaccine’, included a link to the NHS.uk/covid-vaccination website and gave you the option of phoning 119, then it was genuine.
If in doubt you can check with the organisation you think you have booked in with.
Q: I’ve already had my first dose of the vaccine and have now received a text message from the NHS. Does this mean my dose wasn’t recorded properly?/Can I use this to book my second dose?
In a small number of cases you might still receive a text message after recently receiving your first dose.
This will be because there can be a few days lag between being vaccinated and your record being updated.
If you have already been vaccinated or have a vaccination booked, please ignore the message – there is nothing you need to do.
You will not be able to use this service to book your second dose – you should continue to wait to be invited back by the service where you got your first dose.
If you were vaccinated a long time ago and still received a text message, you may wish to get in contact with whichever service you received your vaccination at to ensure they recorded it properly.
Q: How do I know this is a legitimate text?
You can trust your text message is genuinely from the national booking service if it comes from ‘NHSvaccine’, includes a link to the NHS.uk website and gives you the option of phoning 119.
You may receive a different message from a local GP-led vaccination service. If you are in any doubt about this you can ring your local practice to check it is genuine.
Remember, the COVID-19 vaccine is free of charge on the NHS. The NHS will never ask for:
- your bank account or card details
- your pin or banking password
- copies of personal documents to prove your identity such as your passport, driving licence, bills or pay slips
If you think you have been a victim of fraud or identify theft, report it to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040.
Q: I received a text but someone else in my household who is in the same age group/cohort didn’t. Can they book?
Not everyone will receive a text message, because we don’t have everyone’s mobile phone number from their GP patient record, and in some cases the mobile phone numbers we do have will be out of date.
If someone is in an eligible group and doesn’t receive a text, it’s probably for this reason, and they should receive an invite very soon.
If they are in an eligible group, they should in most cases also be able to book via the national booking system at NHS.uk/covid-vaccination or by phoning 119.
Q: I received this text message but I am not in an eligible group and the booking website wouldn’t let me book – why?
The NHS can only send text messages to people who are eligible based on the information provided in their GP patient records.
In a small number of cases, it might be the case that the mobile number we have for someone has lapsed and has since been recycled and allocated to you.
Alternatively, someone with a similar number who is eligible may have entered their number incorrectly on their GP record.
Q: I’ve contacted the national booking service but I can’t travel to one of the locations that are available, what should I do?
More locations will become available in the coming weeks so you could try again later.
Alternatively, you can choose to wait until your local GP service invites you for the vaccine.
Q: What are the operating hours of the telephone booking system?
The telephone booking service will be open 16 hours a day (from 7am until 11pm), seven days a week. People will also be able to book online 24/7.
Q: What should people do if they can’t get through to the phone line straight away?
At times, due to high demand, the phone line will get very busy, which may mean waiting on the line for a while or calling back later. You can alternatively book online.
If you need help to do this, please ask someone in your support bubble.
Q: Does this service work for people who don’t understand English well or are deaf?
The phone line will have interpreters and a BSL facility available on request to help you book your appointments.