Culture Secretary admits 'teething problems' with failing NHS Test and Trace app

27 September 2020, 12:30

Oliver Dowden 'another tool in the armoury'

By Joe Cook

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has admitted there were "teething problems" with the Government's flagship new coronavirus app as it faces major issues.

Speaking to LBC's Swarbrick on Sunday, Mr Dowden stressed the app is merely “an additional tool in the armoury” but conceded there had been problems with it.

He deflected to Health Secretary Matt Hancock on the cost of the app and said it would be unhelpful to release the number of downloads so soon after launch.

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

Read more: Quarter of UK population living under extra Covid restrictions

The app was initially meant to be launched across England in mid-May, as part of Boris Johnson's "world-beating" test and trace system.

Asked about the cost of the Test and Trace app, Mr Dowden told Tom Swarbrick: “Well I think, this is being run by the Health Secretary. I think you would have to ask him the specifics of the numbers, of how much money has been spent, I’m afraid I don’t have that number to hand.

Tom Swarbrick spoke to Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden on Swarbrick on Sunday
Tom Swarbrick spoke to Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden on Swarbrick on Sunday. Picture: PA

“I’m responsible for digital policy, but he can give you the exact number of the precise amount of money that has been spent.”

Pressed on the tender process for the ‘NHS’ app, which was created by a private company, Mr Dowden was also unable to give any details, saying: “This process has been run through the Department of Health, so I don’t want to give you or your listeners misleading information on this. I think it is best to ask those questions to the Health Secretary.”

Mr Dowden also refused to disclose figures for the number of downloads since the app was launched across England and Wales on Thursday.

“In the next few days we will formally publish the figures,” the Culture Secretary said, “I don’t think it is helpful sort of within the first 24 hours or so. Clearly it is well over a million, but once we have properly verified those numbers we will publish them.”

The app had previously been hailed as an "important step forward" by Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

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.

Ed Davey: government 'lurching from crisis to crisis'

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.

Pressed by Tom on these problems Mr Dowden said: “I was in touch with the Health Secretary this morning, I think we are working rapidly to resolve those challenges and most of the challenges have already been resolved.

“Clearly when you launch something, in the first day or two there will be some issues like that, but we are getting on top of that.

“It is not fair to say that this thing is not useful to anybody. It enables people to know whether they have been proximate to someone who has the disease.

"This is another tool in the armoury. But the core tools in the armoury are the Test and Trace.”

Professor Paul Hunter on NHS Test and Trace app scandal

On Saturday, 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".

But defending the app, the Culture Secretary said: “The important thing in relation to this, is remember, test and trace is the core thing we are doing to control the virus in this respect.

“We have increased, rapidly, the number of tests. We have got 500,000 people who would otherwise be out in the community, potentially spreading the disease, who have isolated as a result of it.”

Even if just 15% per cent of people download the app, “that will start to have an impact,” the minister said.

More Tom Swarbrick

See more More Tom Swarbrick

UK should prepare for 'something close to war', Nato's deputy tells LBC, amid warning members have 'neglected defence'

UK should prepare for 'something close to war', Nato's Deputy General tells LBC, as he warns Russia 'cannot be trusted'

Emma Webber (left) speaking to LBC

Mother of Nottingham attack victim Barnaby Webber blasts police ‘mistruths’ after force is put in special measures

Lord Harrington said there should be a cap on the number of asylum seekers the UK takes.

Former refugees minister Lord Harrington calls for a cap on the number of asylum seekers the UK takes

Mel Stride has backed the PM

Rishi Sunak has 'absolutely not' betrayed nation over Rwanda plan, insists minister after Braverman's attack on PM

Tom and caller

'Our family is there': Mother shares heartbreaking experience of being a British Jew during Israel-Hamas conflict

The ban will be brought into effect in months

'Children should be in the classroom to learn': Gillian Keegan orders 'blanket ban' of mobile phones in schools

Tributes have been paid to Elianne after she was stabbed to death in Croydon

Fellow pupil of schoolgirl stabbed to death in Croydon describes heartbreaking moment students were told of her killing

Scotland's first safe drug consumption space set to be openned

'Isn't this just decriminalising heroin?': Tom Swarbrick questions Labour MSP over first safe drug consumption room

The education secretary discusses educational reforms with Tom Swarbrick

Shadow education secretary says 'Building Schools for the Future Programme' would have prevented Raac crisis

Tom Swabrick

'Is it not completely mental?': Tom Swarbrick astonished as schools shut due to crumble-risk concrete before new term

Exam results

Equation sheets given to GCSE cohort in attempt lessen reduced grade inflation blow, schools minister says

Crime commentator on Adam Provan

Internal review of rapist ex-Met officer is the equivalent of 'marking your own homework', says crime commentator

Education Secretary discuss new Eton free schools on LBC

‘Bailed out by Eton’: Education Secretary discusses new free schools with Tom Swarbrick

Lucy Letby: We have to know what went so 'catastrophically wrong' says Tom Swarbrick

Lucy Letby: We have to know what went so 'catastrophically wrong' says Tom Swarbrick

Lord Edward Garnier has called for a public inquiry into Andrew Malkinson's case

Top lawyer blasts Andrew Malkinson rape case as the 'worst miscarriage of justice of the 21st century'

Suella Barge

Suella Braverman can't be blamed for housing migrants on barge with Legionella, ConservativeHome editor says