NHS coronavirus contact tracing app 'will not be ready until winter'

17 June 2020, 22:23

The NHS contact tracing app has been trialled in the Isle of Wight
The NHS contact tracing app has been trialled in the Isle of Wight. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

The NHS contact tracing app will not be ready until winter, a health minister has admitted, despite the government's promise to have it up and running by May.

Lord Bethell said the Department of Health is not "seeking to get something going for the winter".

However, he admitted to a committee of MPs that the app is "not the priority at the moment".

He said the government is still planning to introduce the app, as it is "a really important option for the future".

Lord Bethell said that the Department of Health was "not feeling great time pressure" to introduce an app, as many countries around the world are just getting started on introducing their own.

So far, the app has been trialled on the Isle of Wight, where the Department of Health says it has been downloaded by 54,000 people.

The app will not be available until winter
The app will not be available until winter. Picture: PA

Despite saying the trail has been successful, Lord Bethell said it had shown more emphasis is needed on manual contact tracing.

"It was a reminder that you can't take a totally technical answer to the problem and the government is focused on getting manual contact tracing correct," he said.

In a statement earlier in the day, a spokesperson from the Department of Health and Social Care had said it would be "rolling out the app nationally soon."

The spokesperson added: "The app will complement the NHS Test and Trace programme which is already up and running and helping to save lives."

The Prime Minister pledged in May that a there would be a "world beating" test track and trace operation by June 1.

But last week the head of NHS Test and Trace, Baroness Dido Harding, admitted that the programme was not yet "gold standard" after figures showed a third of people who tested positive for coronavirus could not be reached by officials or failed to provide details of their contacts.

Some 8,117 people who tested positive for Covid-19 in England had their case transferred to the NHS system, of whom 5,407 (67%) were reached, while 2,710 (33%) did not provide information about their contacts or could not be reached.

Overall, 31,794 contacts were identified and, of these, 26,985 were reached and advised to self-isolate - 85% of the total number of contacts.

Of the remaining 15% (4,809), some were not reached, others said they were already taking action independently of the system and some simply refused to comply.

People are contacted 10 times in a 24-hour period.

Professor Sir Chris Ham, former chief executive of the King's Fund think tank, said "there is still a lot to do" to create a world class system.

Sir Chris, who is now non-executive chair of the Coventry and Warwickshire sustainability and transformation partnership and non-executive director of Royal Free Hospitals, told a Royal Society of Medicine briefing on Covid-19: "As Jonathan Van-Tam (England's deputy chief medical officer) said we are at a dangerous moment with the lockdown being eased ahead of having a fully-functioning test and tracing system in place.

"I really worried that there is still a lot to do to develop the so-called world class or world beating test and trace system.

"We are nowhere near that yet although a lot of work is taking place to move us closer to that."

Nigel Edwards, chief executive at the Nuffield Trust, added: "The whole approach to testing and tracing has not been a good story".