NHS Test and Trace app launches today

Today the new NHS Test and Trace app is launched, with trials starting from today with residents on the Isle of Wight and NHS Volunteer Responders across England, followed shortly by residents in the London borough of Newham, as part of the country’s NHS Test and Trace service.

The NHS Test and Trace app has been designed to work alongside traditional contact tracing services and testing, to help people to understand if they are at risk of infection so they can take action to protect themselves and their communities. It uses the latest in security technology and is designed with user privacy in mind so it tracks the virus, not people. England’s NHS Test and Trace programme has worked closely with major tech companies, including Google and Apple, scientists within the Alan Turing Institute, medical experts, privacy groups, at-risk communities and teams in countries across the world such as Germany using similar apps, to develop a state-of-the-art app that is safe, simple and secure.

It will log the time and distance a user has spent near to anyone, even if they don’t know them, so it can alert them if necessary if that person later tests positive for COVID-19, and help them easily book a free test, and quickly get their results.

This is a useful addition to the existing NHS Test and Trace service because it will mean you do not need to know the contact details of people for the service to warn them they have been in contact with someone who has tested positive. This means the service can reach more people and further prevent the spread of the virus. This will become more important as people are beginning to return to their normal lives as much as possible, getting on public transport, seeing friends and going to restaurants.

It uses the latest in security technology to protect people’s privacy. The system generates a random ID for an individual’s device, which can be exchanged between devices to monitor the spread of the virus while rotating frequently to prevent tracking.

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said:

It’s essential we get the country moving again so people can get back to doing what they love. Our statistics show more people with symptoms are getting tested and NHS Test and Trace reaches the vast majority of people testing positive, and their contacts. We are seeing a significant rise in the number of people with symptoms getting tested, and 90% of people who turn up to be tested get their results by the next day.

We’ve worked with tech companies, international partners, privacy and medical experts to develop an app that is simple to use, secure and will help keep the country safe.

Building on the feedback from the first phase, I want to thank Isle of Wight residents who will again play a vital national role in fighting this pandemic, joined by residents in Newham, London and our incredible NHS Volunteer Responders. We are hugely grateful to everyone playing their part to rigorously test the new app and provide the foundation for a national roll-out.

Dido Harding, Executive Chair of the NHS Test and Trace Programme, said:

It’s really important that we make it as easy as possible for everyone to engage with NHS Test and Trace. By launching an app that supports our integrated, localised approach to NHS Test and Trace, anyone with a smartphone will be able to find out if they are at risk of having caught the virus, quickly and easily order a test, and access the right guidance and advice.

There is no silver bullet when it comes to tackling coronavirus. The app is a great step forward and will complement all of the work we are doing with local areas across the country to reach more people in their communities and work towards our vision of helping more people get back to the most normal life possible at the lowest risk. I am hugely grateful to the Isle of Wight, Newham and the NHS responders for playing their part.

Simon Thompson, Managing Director of the NHS Test and Trace App, said:

NHS Test and Trace is vital to controlling the spread of coronavirus and this app is designed to give people maximum freedom at minimum risk.

We have worked with some of the most innovative organisations in the World, such as Apple, Google, scientists from the Alan Turing Institute and Oxford University and governments across the world to come up with a state-of-the-art product which works to protect people everyday. It’s like NHS Test and Trace in your pocket.

By giving access to the Isle of Wight, Newham and NHS Volunteers first we can make this app even better before rolling out nationwide so the rest of the nation can benefit.

The app has a range of additional, enhanced features that will help to reduce personal and public risk from COVID-19 as part of the end-to-end NHS Test and Trace service:

  • alert: letting users know the level of coronavirus risk in their postcode district
  • QR check-in: alerting users if they have recently visited a venue where they may have come into contact with someone who later tests positive with COVID-19
  • symptoms: allowing users to check if they have coronavirus symptoms and see if they need to order a free test all in one place
  • test: helping users book a free test through the app and get results quickly to know whether they have COVID-19.
  • isolate: if a user is told to self-isolate, a timer feature will help count down that period and access will be provided to relevant advice

Starting this week, residents on the Isle of Wight and NHS volunteers will receive unique codes via email and post to give them early access to download the app, with residents in Newham, London, getting theirs soon after. The government will work with local partners to ensure users are supported by a wide range of marketing and communication activity. They will be part of a trial period as the NHS Test and Trace programme rigorously evaluates the app in real-world settings to monitor performance and identify improvements ready for national launch.

The app needs to be tested in different ways with different groups that represent the whole of the UK. The Isle of Wight, who have helped develop the app to this point, is a controlled geographical area allowing the service to particularly test features like the QR code check-in and the alert and contact tracing reliability. Newham is an area with a diverse population who might be more at risk to the virus so trialling the app here will ensure that it meets the needs of a range of different communities. The NHS Volunteer Responders have played a critical role in the response to the pandemic and will help test that the app is ready to scale ahead of national launch.

The app is designed to the highest standards of data privacy and data security. It will not track individuals and does not hold personal information such as name, address or date of birth. For some features, the app may require more information from the user (for example, if you are booking a test) but only if the user gives their explicit consent.

Isle of Wight Council Leader, Dave Stewart, said:

Earlier this year, as part of the response to coronavirus, the island took part in testing the first NHS COVID-19 app.

As a direct result of our incredible, collective effort an improved app has been developed and now, we along with others are being asked to help test this app once again.

We are starting to see our communities open up again, and a return to a more normal way of life. But coronavirus has not gone and until a vaccine or treatment is found, testing and contact tracing is the best way to stop the virus from spreading further and the app is another tool in our toolkit for helping to contain the virus.

Mayor of Newham, Rokhsana Fiaz, said:

We know that Newham has seen some of the most significant impacts of COVID-19 due to the health inequalities and vulnerabilities in our communities.

With the threat of COVID-19 still with us, it’s vital we support our residents to keep safe and help others. The app is a welcomed addition to all the measures that our public health team have put in place working closely with our local health partners.

With its easy to use features, the app will be available in different languages and comes with the assurance that personal data stays with the user so that people’s privacy is protected.

By taking part in this early phase to trial the app before its national roll-out, we’ll be working closely with all sections of our diverse community through our COVID-19 Health Champions network and neighbourhood outreach teams, building on our innovation in creating a unique array of resources to support our community through this unprecedented time of challenge.

Jason Davies

UK based technology professional, with an interest in computer security and telecoms.

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