NHS contact tracing app might not be ready until winter - here’s what it means

Thursday, 18th June 2020, 2:34 pm
Updated Thursday, 18th June 2020, 2:34 pm
This is what you need to know about the NHS app (Photo: Shutterstock)

The NHS contact racing app that was originally scheduled to be released in May has now been pushed back until “winter” according to the Department of Health.

This is everything you need to know.

“Not a priority”

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Lord Bethell, the Minister for Innovation at the Department of Health and Social Care, was unable to give a date for the launch of the app, following questions at the Science and Technology Committee on Wednesday 17 June.

He explained that the trial of the app “has gone very well indeed” but that the app wouldn’t be ready for launch until winter.

“We are seeking to get something going for winter, but this isn’t a priority for us at the moment,” Lord Bethell said.

At the beginning of May, Health Secretary Matt Hanock had urged members of the public to download the app, which at the time was expected to be rolled out nationally by the end of the month.

He said that there had been some “technical challenges” as well as an “ongoing battle” to persuade people that the system is safe.

The concerns about the app is one of the reasons that the government has not released it yet, with Lord Bethell saying: “If we didn’t quite get it right the first time round, we might poison the pool and close off a really important option for the future.”

What did the trial find?

The app has been the subject of a trial taking place on the Isle of Wight, where the government states that it has been downloaded by 54,000 people.

While the trial had been described as a success by Lord Bethell, he admitted that there needs to be more emphasis on manual contact tracing carried out by humans.

Speaking of the trial, Lord Bethell said: “One of the things it has taught us is that it is the human contact that is the one most valued by people.

“And in fact there is a danger of being too technological and relying too much on text and emails and alienating or freaking out people because you’re telling them quite alarming news through quite casual communications.”

What is the app?

The app is designed to aid in the fight against coronavirus by tracing the spread of the virus.

If you develop symptoms of coronavirus, the app will:

  • Anonymously warn other app users who might have been near you
  • Provide advice from the NHS on the right action to take to help stop spreading the virus further
  • Help you get a swab test

The app works by using bluetooth technology on your phone to record the distance between other phones that also have the app installed.

If you become unwell, you’ll inform the app of your symptoms which will then send out an alert to other users that had been in significant contact with you over the previous few days.

While the app records distances between individual phones, it will not measure your location - and data in the app will also only ever be used for “NHS care, management, evaluation and research” according to the NHS.

You are free to delete the app and all of its data whenever you want, with the NHS saying that it will “always comply with the law around the use of your data”.