NHS Coronavirus App Isle of Wight trial, as reviewed by Preiskel & Co’s Stewart White.
The UK Government urged amongst some fanfare for the residents of the Isle of Wight to be “part of history” by downloading the NHS Contact Tracing App, which is the solution chosen by the Government instead of the location based offerings from Apple and Google. Preiskel & Co’s Stewart White (a leading consultant telecoms lawyer, ex Group Public Policy Director of Vodafone) has been among the first to test it. He says that it is easy to install on smart phones and the personal information requested fairly basic, being a postcode. He has no reservations as far as privacy is concerned in the context requested, although he thinks it would have been better to have used geolocation services that other countries have used, Singapore being one, which would avoid the need to self-report any symptoms and thus the element of trust in the user doing “the right thing” and report symptoms.
As at 15th May 2020, authorities have estimated that roughly half the population (70,000) have downloaded the App. The local authorities are pleased with this and the Island’s MP, Bob Seely, regards it as a success as evidenced by a joint letter by Bob Seely, and IW Council Leader, Dave Stewart to Health Ministers last Friday. Anecdotally, it is understood that roughly 25 people a day are self-reporting, which is good and means that those who might not otherwise get tested will now be and that combined with contact and tracing ought help control the spread of the virus. Good contact and tracing, though seems hard without geolocation, which admittedly raises far greater privacy concerns amongst parts of the community, even in time of a national (and global) crisis. With its Island’s demographics of elderly and unemployed, it will be interesting to see the data of the App’s penetration and usage. One nurse apparently ventured the opinion that a number of patients she had seen in the Island’s only hospital, St Mary’s, did not have a smartphone.
The App could support rapid identification (through testing needs to be as close to real-time as possible to be effective), but relies on us all being selfless to a very high degree and self-report. It requires trained local teams who know how to contact trace (health visitors, district nurses, school nurses, food hygiene inspectors, and others familiar with the community on the ground rather than in call centres) and then testing, testing, testing. There is so much we just don’t know about the biology of this virus that anything on top of tried and tested approaches is certainly worth a go. It will be interesting to see the data that emerges from the Isle of Wight test, not generally regarded as being on the frontline for anything, so this is welcome change and boost of confidence in the difficult times.