Responding to today’s government announcement on the trial of the latest version of its contact tracing app, part of the NHS Test and Trace service, Adam Steventon, Director of Data Analytics at the Health Foundation, said:
‘Contact tracing apps have the potential to play a critical role in fighting the spread of coronavirus, and it is vitally important that this technology, and the wider test and trace system, are fit for purpose ahead of the winter. COVID-19 is taking a disproportionate toll on older people, people from specific black and minority ethnic groups and those who live in poorer areas. The government must ensure the redesigned app works for these hardest hit groups.
‘Testing the app among different populations is an important step. The inclusion of the London Borough of Newham in the trial is very welcome. It is one of the most ethnically diverse areas of the country, has a high population density and has significant areas of deprivation. Hopefully this trial will go some way to improving confidence among those people hardest hit by the pandemic that the app will help protect them and their communities.’
The Health Foundation has also called on the government to ensure that the trials are properly evaluated and that findings are shared. The ultimate test for the app is whether it increases the proportion of contacts that are traced by the Test and Trace service. Currently only 79% of people contacted by NHS Test and Trace are able to give information about their contacts, and only 75% of contacts can be reached.
Steventon added: ‘Evaluation is critical not only for building confidence in the app and the trials, but also for understanding and addressing the risk of unequal impact. False alerts might impact more severely on certain populations, for example those unable to work from home. The inclusion of Newham, which has been among the worst affected regions in the country, will be a critical test for the app and will help to understand how well the app works for people living in a densely populated urban area where options to reduce their exposure might be limited, for example due to overcrowded housing.’