NHS Test and Trace app delayed until winter
Government has announced that its NHS Test and Trace app will not be launched until winter 2020 and that the technology behind it will be altered from the system used in the Isle of Wight trials. After months maintaining that the technology developed by NHSX, the NHS’s technology arm, would not be abandoned, today’s announcement marks a change in the contact tracing strategy. Google-Apple technology will now be used as the basis of the app. Baroness Dido Harding, head of the Test and Trace Programme said that this decision had been made after ‘rigorous field testing’. The centralised approach developed by NHSX was found to pick up 75% of contacts made through Android phones, but only 4% on iOS Apple devices. The Google-Apple framework picks up 99% of iOS contacts, demonstrating its advantage over the system tested on the Isle of Wight.
The Google-Apple framework uses Bluetooth technology in the background and a decentralised mode of data storage where contacts are stored on an individual’s phone. Government had been wary of this decentralised approach over concerns of user privacy risks. Some issues remain with the Google-Apple Bluetooth approach, such as with some devices confusing phones in pockets one metre away with a phone in a hand three metres away. The app’s public launch had been promised for mid-May by Health Secretary Matt Hancock, though now the technology will not be available until winter. Lord Bethell of Romford, the minister responsible for the smartphone app, said that a key learning from the Isle of Wight is the importance of manual contact tracing and the human aspect of contacting positive cases for more details. He maintained that the work Test and Trace employees do is the main focus at present and that Government does not view the app as ‘a priority for us’.