Utter incompetence: embarrassment as Covid app only part works – again

26 September 2020, 22:00 | Updated: 27 September 2020, 12:03

Officials have made note of the flaw in the newly-released test and trace app
Officials have made note of the flaw in the newly-released test and trace app. Picture: PA
Rachael Kennedy

By Rachael Kennedy

The government has been accused of delivering a "broken" test and trace system after finding its newly-released app may have failed to include up to tens of thousands of results.

Officials admitted earlier this week that a system flaw meant app users with coronavirus tests processed at an NHS hospital or Public Health England (PHE) lab may not have been able to list their results.

This also includes tests undertaken as part of the Office for National Statistics' national surveillance programme.

But the Department of Health said on Sunday morning that the glitch had been fixed, although people who book a test through a third party still can't upload negative results.

It comes as government data revealed a total of 61,481 people took a test in these settings on Friday - the first full day since the tracing app was launched - and means nearly a third (29%) of all Covid-19 tests taken that day may have been affected.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said on Saturday evening the issue had since been fixed for those with positive test results - but the ability to log a negative result was still being "looked at".

She said: "A minority of people, such as hospital patients, who were unable to log their positive result can now request a code when contacted by NHS Test and Trace to input on their app."

But LBC technology correspondent Will Guyatt, who has two decades of covering tech launches, said he couldn't recall an industry event as "messy" as this, and noted an "inherently broken" app was "making a mockery of the system".

He wrote: "Until this is fixed, the app is essentially spraying out false signals, causing both false negative and positive results.

READ MORE: NHS Covid-19 app can't process thousands of test results

"Imagine those Facebook videos where someone loses control of a high pressure hose and the reality is pretty close to that."

The app, which has been available for download across England and Wales since Thursday, has previously been hailed as an "important step forward" by Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

It allows users to book an appointment to test for Covid-19 and sends an alert to other users who have recently been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for the illness.

The app was released on Thursday in England and Wales
The app was released on Thursday in England and Wales. Picture: PA

News of the glitch was initially revealed on Friday after the app's official Twitter account warned a user that "test results cannot currently be linked with the app whether they're positive or negative".

The user had inquired about inputting their recent results into the app having been asked to type out a code they hadn't been given.

READ MORE: Test and trace app 'so broken it makes a mockery of the system,' says LBC's tech correspondent

The DHSC spokeswoman later said officials were aware of the issue and were "urgently working" to resolve it.

She also added further assurance that any tests booked through the app would be instantly recorded.

"NHS Test and Trace will continue to contact people by text, email or phone if your test is positive, advising you to self-isolate and for those who don't have a code the contact tracers will shortly be able to provide codes to insert in the app," she said.

"If you book your test via the app the results will be automatically recorded in the app and the isolation countdown will be updated."

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth, meanwhile, said he had wanted to see the app succeed, but expressed concern about its apparent flaws.

He said: "Have they really launched an app that doesn’t actually link to tests carried out by NHS hospital labs and PHE labs instead only including tests carried out via the outsourced lighthouse lab network?"

READ MORE: Quarter of UK population living under extra Covid restrictions

The flaw itself, however, was only reported to affect users in England, while Wales said it had already sorted the coded system on the app.

"This issue doesn't apply to Wales," the Welsh government confirmed shortly after the initial DHSC statement was released.

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"We took the decision to link our all-Wales laboratory testing systems with the NHS Covid-19 app.

"Here you'll get a code in your test result notifications to enter into the app, whether your result is positive or negative."

Mr Ashworth added in a later tweet commenting on the division: "They can fix it in Wales so they should be able to fix it in England..."

READ MORE: Rishi to the rescue, but who's picking up the tab?

On Saturday, a further 6,042 cases of Covid-19 were confirmed across the UK, bringing the total number of infections to 429,277.

Another 34 people also died within 28 days of testing positive for the illness, bringing the total number of deaths to 41,971.