NHS contact tracing app in chaos before June deadline: Advisers complain about mainlanders downloading it in Isle of Wight trial and only one inhabitant has reported getting an alert
- Mail on Sunday found just one person on Isle of Wight who had received warning
- The Government has already admitted the app won’t be ready for June 1 rollout
- MP Bob Seely says he does not know how many people app has alerted
A pilot of the UK’s track and trace app is being undermined because mainlanders are downloading it when it should only be used on the Isle of Wight.
More than 55,000 people were thought to have downloaded the app on the island – which is home to around 80,000 smartphone owners, but sources from an ethics advisory board appointed by NHSX have told The Sunday Telegraph those figures could be false.
‘It’s clear that some people who downloaded it were not on the Isle of Wight,’ one member of the ethics committee said.
Isle of Wight Bob Seely told the Mail on Sunday he doesn’t know how many alerts the app has given on the island, his girlfriend is the only person the paper found who had been notified
The Isle of Wight has been trialling a track and trace app that will be rolled out across the UK – but experts fear mainlanders have downloading it
The app works by allocating a unique code to each user’s phone. Whenever you come within about two metres of someone else with the app, these codes are exchanged via Bluetooth and stored in the phone.
If one party becomes unwell and logs the fact in their phone, all those they have come into contact with will receive an alert.
This might mean them having to self-isolate and undergo tests. But it depends on the length of time spent near the symptomatic person, and their proximity.
Having spoken to dozens of islanders the only person The Mail on Sunday found who had heard of anyone receiving an alert was the Isle of Wight’s MP Bob Seely.
His girlfriend, he says, was notified – told she’d been in contact with someone showing symptoms of coronavirus.
Parish councillor Darryl Pitcher says: ‘This big experiment was forced upon us – we deserve to know its results. We are at the front and the generals are at the back. It doesn’t mean we are leading.’
Running a Covid response team, delivering groceries and prescriptions, he says he’s more ‘plugged in than most’ to island news and has yet to hear of an alert being issued.
‘There are only 170 or so confirmed cases of coronavirus on the island,’ he says.
‘A fair number of those are in care homes so they won’t be going anywhere. Also a lot of people will have recovered, so I would suggest there simply aren’t enough cases here to trace.’
Isle of Wight MP Bob Seely said around 24 people a day were using the app to report their symptoms.
Speaking to the Mail on Sunday, he said: ‘Whether they would have reported symptoms via other means if they didn’t have the app is not possible to say. Other valuable information is coming back: how people interact with it and what models of phones are unable to download it, for instance.
‘How many alerts? I don’t have that information.’
The government has accepted the track and tracing app will not be ready for a nationwide rollout by June 1, when lockdown measures ease with primary schools reopening.
The Sunday Telegraph reports scenes of chaos as the government scrambled to develop the app at the start of the pandemic’s outbreak in Britain.
The advisory board is understood to be concerned with repeated issues obtaining information from the government, including which questions should be put to users on the app.
Professor Ross Anderson, a professor of security engingeering at Cambridge, has warned the safety of the app could be compromised as ethics boards are not being given key information.
He said: ‘The problem with it is that it was perfectly reasonable to say at the start of March let’s develop an app because at a time like this you just do everything. But what you have to do is also have a mechanism where people can fail fast and where people can abandon things quickly if they are not working and then try other things.’
NHSx which is responsible for developing best practice for National Health Service technology, digital and data, including data sharing and transparency has defended the trial.
Sir Jonathan Montgomery, chair of the Ethics Advisory Board, accepts the app has been built quickly, but assured the Sunday Telegraph: ‘We would never let that urgency compromise or commitment to clinical safety, transparency, ethics and the law.’
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