Islanders were encouraged to download the app ahead of a nationwide roll-out, but now it has been announced that the Government is abandoning the centralised NHSX coronavirus track and trace app in favour of a Google/Apple alternative.
Over 54,000 Islanders are said to have downloaded the mobile application throughout May following a massive campaign. But question marks were soon raised when it became clear hardly anyone was receiving alerts and then the app was not updated when the list of symptoms was expanded.
It has now transpired that issues with Apple’s iPhone models could not be overcome.
This morning Island Echo reported that the app was being put on the backburner. Now, the Department for Health and Social Care has announced that the project is being officially abandoned in its current, centralised form.
Another app using Google’s and Apple’s technology is expected later in the year. That means, for now at least, Islanders can delete the app they have been carrying around for the past 5 weeks or so.
Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock has said:
“We knew from the start that it was imperative to be bold but to also test and learn as we developed this new technology.
“The NHS Covid-19 app has undergone some of the most rigorous testing in the world and the Isle of Wight has led the way.
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“I want to thank everyone of the island who played such a vital role in getting behind the app, downloading it and providing invaluable feedback. This will be integral as we move into the next phase of development.
“As we enter this next phase of research and development we remain determined to continue in our ambition to develop an app which meets the technical, security and user needs of the public and which can complement our existing rigorous and effective testing and contact tracing service: NHS Test and Trace.
“This will support our vision of helping more people get back to the most normal life possible at the lowest risk.
“A huge number of people on the island have dedicated time to this project and we are hugely grateful. Residents on the on the Isle of Wight have led the way and the feedback from islanders will remain at the heart of our approach going forward.”
Isle of Wight MP Bob Seely said:
“I am sad at the decision not to proceed with the app, but the important thing is that the Island played its role in testing the app. It was a trial. The point of a trial is that we get to see if the app worked or not.
“The Island played its part well and most importantly proved its worth as a partner with central Government.
“I want to thank everyone who downloaded the app and who contributed. We played our part in the test. That’s all we could do, and we did it. The Island provided invaluable feedback to the NHS which has informed the future approach and direction of research.
“There have been in the past year, four national trials in which the Island has had an important role. First, the use of high-tech to push forward plans for telemedicine, second the use of drones to support St Mary’s Hospital, third, the trace and test app, and fourth, use of steroids to treat Covid-19.
“At least three out of those four pilots were, or are being, successful, and even the app has been worthwhile in terms of informing next steps.
“I understand that elements of the app have worked well. It was good at measuring distance and Islanders like the idea of a companion app, helping to report symptoms. It may have caused some suppression of the virus, as indicative figures last week showed. It worked well on Android phones. However, the app was very poor at picking up iPhone interactions.
“I understand that the Google/Apple app also has flaws, especially at measuring distance, but we I suspect have little choice but to work with Apple since the app will have to work on their phones.
“I will continue to champion the Island as the right place to pilot schemes. I will do so because we need to get the Island at the front of the queue, not the back, where we have been for too long. I am unapologetic about this.
“Once again, thank you to Islanders for their support for the app project.”
It could be argued that the Isle of Wight has done incredibly well out of the app trial with money-can’t-buy publicity, as Health Secretary Matt Hancock declared on national TV “Where the Isle of Wight goes, Britain follows”.
Vix Lowthion, spokesperson for the IW Green Party, disagrees:
“The good people of the Isle of Wight deserve an apology from this government. The decision to shelve the NHSX App was not taken today – they have known for weeks that the App just does not work, and yet still encouraged Islanders to download it. Why?
“Islanders stood up to the mark and downloaded it in good faith to ‘do their duty’ and ‘lead the way’. The reality was that the App had no NHS Ethics Approval, no privacy legislation and no declared success criteria”.
Isle of Wight Labour’s Richard Quigley has said:
“Obviously it’s disappointing that the trial isn’t leading anywhere. However, even if the government was unable to take this further, Isle of Wight residents should still be proud that so many of them were willing to participate in trying to make something constructive happen during the crisis”.