While evidence from recent pilots of the NHS app remains unpublished, major questions about its effectiveness are left unanswered Health Foundation response to launch of the NHS COVID-19 app in England and Wales

24 September 2020

Commenting on today’s launch of the NHS COVID-19 app in England and Wales, Josh Keith, Senior Fellow at the Health Foundation, said:

'With a virus that is transmitted as quickly as COVID-19, the automated contact tracing feature of the new NHS app could prove invaluable in reducing its spread. But while evidence from recent pilots of this technology remains unpublished, major questions about its effectiveness are left unanswered, including how it will protect those communities who are most vulnerable to the virus yet may be among the least likely to use the app.*

‘The effectiveness of the app will be dependent on the public downloading it and changing their behaviour based on its advice. In failing to yet share the findings of the pilots, government has missed a vital opportunity to build people’s confidence in the new technology. It is now essential that how the public uses and responds to the app is continuously evaluated to ensure it is working effectively and any improvements are identified.

‘It is also important to recognise the app will not work in isolation - it is reliant on people being able to readily access tests when they need to. But the test and trace system faces considerable challenges. As we approach winter it is vital that government delivers the ‘world-beating’ system the Prime Minister promised.’

Notes

* Polling by Ipsos MORI on behalf of the Health Foundation – conducted between 17 and 29 July among British adults, prior to the announcement that a redesigned smartphone app would be piloted and rolled out – reinforces concerns of a potential digital divide along the lines of occupation, educational level and age.

  • Younger people (18-24) are in general more likely to say they would download the app, use the app and self-isolate for 14 days, while the oldest age groups (65+) are less likely to say they would download the app, use the app and self-isolate for 14 days (largely because they are less likely to own a smartphone – around 21% do not, compared with around 6% overall).
  • Socio-economic groups: People in professional, administrative and management roles are more likely to say they would download the app, report symptoms and self-isolate if the app suggests (64%; 72%; 87% respectively compared with 52%; 64%; 84% overall).
  • Education: People with no formal qualifications or GCSE or equivalent qualifications are least likely to say they would download the app (31% and 47% respectively say they would, compared with 52% overall).

Media contact

Simon Perry
Simon.Perry@health.org.uk
020 7257 2093

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