Major questions about the effectiveness of the coronavirus contact tracing app remained unanswered after a trial in east London, a charity warned on the eve of its launch.
Failure to demonstrate the technology’s performance in testing risks undermining public confidence as its success depends on adoption, the Health Foundation said.
The NHS Covid-19 app is expected to be released in England and Wales on Thursday to support the NHS testing and tracing effort, after months of delays, technical issues and privacy concerns.
It uses Bluetooth technology to keep an anonymous log of those who are near a user and can notify them if anyone who was nearby has subsequently tested positive for the coronavirus.
The latest version of the app has been tested on the Isle of Wight and London Borough of Newham since mid-August.
The charity is concerned that people have yet to see the results of these pilots and calls for more transparency around the development.
He also wants to be reassured that the technology will not worsen existing health inequalities, leaving some people more exposed to the coronavirus than others.
“With a virus that spreads as quickly as Covid-19, the automated contact tracing that the app promises could prove invaluable in reducing its spread,” said Josh Keith, senior researcher at the Health Foundation.
“In addition, the additional features of the app, such as booking a test, reporting symptoms or checking the level of risk in the postal code district, could provide a single and useful source of advice and guidance. assistance related to Covid-19.
“However, for any national public health intervention, it is important that the government publishes evidence of its effectiveness and mass availability before it is launched.
“This is essential for building confidence in the app, because people will want to know that it will benefit them and their communities.
“But all of the pilot data that took place in August was notably missing, leaving major questions about the app’s effectiveness unanswered. “
The Department of Health and Social Affairs responded that testing has shown the app to work accurately and responsively, with positive feedback from users.
Major mobile carriers have also committed to “zero-rating” all data charges, meaning customers won’t be charged for data when using the app.
“It’s critical to make sure that a wide range of people download and use the app,” a DHSC spokesperson said.
“The NHS Covid-19 app is a central part of NHS Test and Trace in England, and works with traditional contact tracing services and tests, to help individuals understand if they are at risk for infection so that they can take action to protect themselves and their communities.
“We spoke with groups with protected characteristics, such as age, ethnicity and disability, those with health inequalities and groups particularly affected by the coronavirus and the app and support materials will be available in several languages. “