/Scottish Governments contact tracing tool is incomplete and could be ditched

Scottish Governments contact tracing tool is incomplete and could be ditched

Software pivotal to Nicola Sturgeon’s Covid-19 contact tracing strategy isn’t being used in a pilot scheme and could be ditched.

The First Minister promised a “secure web-based tool accessible on smart phones or computers” in official papers published on May 4.

Diagrams showed how those who tested positive for coronavirus could use the software to input details of people with whom they had been in close proximity.

In the same document, Sturgeon refused to fully endorse an app being developed by the UK Government for use south of the Border, claiming it could provide an “enhancement” but was not a substitute to her own plan.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman announced last Sunday that tracing software would be trailed in a two-week pilot scheme currently running at three health boards before being used nationwide by the end of the month.

How the tracing app could work
(Image: UGC)

But the Sunday Mail has learned the Scottish Government’s web tool is still incomplete and could end up being dropped.

A Scottish Government spokesman has now claimed it will only be rolled out “if the scale of contact tracing requires it”.

He said: “The public facing part of this software is not yet available for use, nor is it required at this early stage to successfully contact trace.

“If the scale of the tracing requires it, these additional features will allow the public, via a website link provided to them, to contribute answers to questions in advance to save time on the phone with contact tracers.

“This will allow public health teams to spend more phone time supporting those that need it most.”

The spokesman insisted the tool was never intended to be an app – despite being web-based and operated from a mobile phone – and was not expected to be complete until next month.

He added: “This is not an app – there’s no download.

“It’s entirely used in the cloud, via your web browser, in the same way you could use something like gmail or dropbox without an app.

“Subject to rigorous testing and user engagement, the public-facing component of the software is expected to be available for use in June, if the scale of contact tracing requires it.”

Conservative MSP Annie Wells
(Image: Getty Images)

When asked what technology was being used in the test, trace and isolate trials taking place in Fife, Lanarkshire and the Highlands, he cited “simple case assignment and data capture tools to support phone interview-based contact tracing of confirmed cases”.

The spokesman added: “The work we are doing in Scotland is to provide more sophisticated software so that contact tracers can do their job more efficiently and is entirely different to an app that the public would download.”

The Sunday Mail last week revealed how nobody had been hired to a new national contact tracing team despite 8500 people having applied for 2000 jobs.

Opposition politicians reacted angrily to delays and news that the launch of the web tool is now in doubt.

Scottish Labour health spokeswoman Monica Lennon said: “Last week, we learned that the Scottish Government had failed to employ any new contact tracers despite setting itself a target of 2000 people, a target it looks set to miss.

“Now we find that the mobile web tool the public was promised to assist with the contact tracing process hasn’t been delivered, with no sign of a date at which it will become available, if ever.

“It begs the question what exactly is being piloted in the three health boards supposed to be trialling the test, trace isolate strategy.

“The public have complied with everything asked of them by the Scottish Government – they deserve clear answers about their future safety.”

Monica Lennon
(Image: PA)

Scottish Conservative deputy leader Annie Wells added: “There’s no harm in some divergence but when that takes place the SNP needs to show why it’s of benefit.

“Many people will suspect this decision has been made for the sake of being different and nothing else.

“And weeks after revealing the app would be used, there’s no sign of it, no targets and no estimate for a delivery date.

“If that’s the cost of SNP divergence, the public won’t be happy.”

Contact tracing apps are being used in several countries with the UK Government trialling its system on the Isle of Wight.

The Scottish Government announced it would pilot new technology for contact tracing at NHS Fife, NHS Lanarkshire and NHS Highland last week.

The software has been commissioned from a private company through the Government’s Digital Health and Care Institute.

Unlike the UK Government system, the Scottish plan was not to use bluetooth location services and instead rely on users manually inputting their contacts.

Freeman was forced to claim 600 NHS staff had been redeployed as contact tracers after our story last week revealed nobody had been hired.

She said Scottish software would “focus on supporting public health teams to identify outbreaks” and that technology would be rolled out to all health boards by the end of May and then “enhanced further” during June.

When asked yesterday how many new recruits had been hired as contact tracers, rather than redeployed from other parts of the NHS, the Scottish Government would not provide a figure.

A spokeswoman said: “We are on track to meet our estimated 2000 contact tracers and will provide further detail on our
progress next week as we launch the Test and Protect system.”

Sturgeon claimed on Friday that 660 contact tracers were now in place, with another 750 “at various stages of the appointment and training process”.

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Coronavirus in Scotland

The UK Government launched a contact-tracing app earlier this month.

Users who download it to their phone can voluntarily opt in to record details of their symptoms when they start to feel unwell.

The app keeps track of others who have been in close contact through Bluetooth signals that transmit an anonymous ID.

NHS England hopes it will be available to people south of the Border by the end of this month.

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