The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety and the Business Services Organisation in Northern Ireland is preparing to roll-out a nationwide flu surveillance solution from Apollo Medical Systems.

The data extraction query solution, which is in its final stages of development, will be piloted in 12 GP practices before it is rolled out to around 350 GP practices by the end of September 2009.

Penny Murray, DHSSPS departmental project leader said: “When pandemic flu became an urgent matter, we decided not to go through a full tendering exercise because it would take far too long. We restricted the tendering process to the two main companies active in Northern Ireland.”

After Apollo displayed its ability to meet “strict timescales” it was awarded the €114,000 contract to provide a daily extraction tool with a centralised data reporting mechanism and a data repository in June, with delivery by the end of the year.

The software will run off Apollo’s SQL software suite, which is already installed in all of Northern Ireland’s GP practices, and which will extract information on the number of consultations carried out with those displaying flu and flu like symptoms and respiratory problems.

It will also collect information on the number of antiviral, antibiotics and eventually vaccines prescribed. Data will be extracted on an anonymised basis, encrypted and securely transferred and stored in a central server hosted by the BSO.

Before the one-year contract was awarded to Apollo, Northern Ireland had no surveillance in place.

“This system is designed so that the department can plan, monitor and deliver services on the ground. The data will be confined to a minimal number of users within the department so that the misinterpretation of data is limited,” Murray said.

However, Murray admitted that the system will not take into account those who obtain information and antiviral through the National Pandemic Flu Service and that this would be “a problem in tracking the development flu.”

Steve Avery, director of operations and Apollo Medical Systems said: “We have commercial agreements with the four suppliers in Northern Ireland, EMIS, iSoft, Merlock and In Practice systems, to ensure that the query is automated and that it does not interfere with back-ups.”

In 2006, England’s Department of Health dropped plans to use Apollo software to extract patient data from GP practice systems for its GP Patient Survey after concerns about potential breaches of confidentiality.

Avery added: “All processes have been ratified by the Northern Ireland General Practitioners Committee and the committee has sat in on each meeting and rubber stamped the roll-out. In any project where patient data is extracted consent and confidentiality is a cornerstone of what we do.”


Link: Apollo Medical Systems