COVID-19 tracing app to be trialled on the Isle of Wight before UK roll-out

Department of Health and Social Care denies claims that the app has failed NHS clinical safety and security test.
By Tammy Lovell
02:08 PM

A coronavirus contact-tracing app is being trialled in the Isle of Wight from tomorrow (5 May) and is expected to be rolled out throughout the UK in the coming weeks.

In a press briefing, health secretary Matt Hancock, said the app “will help us deliver test, track and trace on the mass scale that we need across the country.”

The app will initially be available to NHS staff and from Thursday the island’s 80,000 households will receive letters asking them to install the app.

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Hancock added that it took “full consideration of privacy and security” and had already been tested in closed conditions at an RAF base.

The app uses low energy bluetooth to alert users if they are within 6ft of somebody with the virus for at least 15 minutes.

If a user become unwell with COVID-19 symptoms they inform the NHS via the app and other app users who they have had contact with, will be sent an alert and advice about what to do. It is also planned to include a test ordering function.

“I’m grateful to the huge enthusiasm showed by islanders who know that by participating in this pilot, they are at the forefront of getting Britain back on her feet. Where the Isle of Wight goes, Britain follows,” Hancock said.

It was reported in HSJ, that the app had failed NHS clinical safety and cyber security tests that would allow it be included in the NHS app library. However, a Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) spokesperson told Healthcare IT News this was “factually untrue”

WHY IT MATTERS

The app is intended to help the government ease lockdown by being able to identify areas with high and low areas of infection. The conditions of the island would allow the app to be tested under “proper scientifically controlled conditions, comparing the effect with what’s going on in the mainland before we roll it out to the rest of the country,” according to Hancock.

However, he emphasised that the app did not mean the end of social distancing.

THE LARGER CONTEXT

There have been several concerns raised about privacy issues relating to the app. Last week, the Chartered Institute for IT, published a policy position paper supporting the proposed app, which said to ensure uptake, it must address the “perceived ‘Big Brother’ elements of the implementation.”

ON THE RECORD

A spokesperson for NHS Digital said: “The coronavirus contact tracing app is currently being piloted, as widely reported in the media, and will doubtless evolve as a result of the lessons learned during piloting.”

A DHSC spokesperson said: “Privacy and security has been paramount throughout the app’s development, and we have worked in partnership with the National Cyber Security Centre throughout. The app uses low-energy Bluetooth, not GPS, and therefore it does not track people’s locations.”