Business Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said the NHS contact tracing app will go live by the end of the month – amid claims it would not be fully up and running until ‘September or October time’.
Test and trace systems were launched in England and Scotland last week, but without the app due to delays.
Mr Zahawi said on BBC Question Time last night that the app, which had been trialled in the Isle of Wight, would be in place ‘this month’, adding that it would be rolled out when it is ‘robust’.
But Tony Prestedge, chief operating officer for the contact tracing system, is said to have told employees it would be ‘imperfect and clunky’.
In a May 27 video to staff, obtained by The Guardian, Mr Prestedge said: ‘I am sure when Dido [Harding, the NHS chief overseeing the programme] announces this service later she will make clear that it is an imperfect service at launch that we will improve over time and make it world-class by the time that we are moving towards the September or October time.’
The NHS test-and-trace regime will not be up and running until September according to Tony Prestedge, the chief operating officer for the contact tracing system. Pictured: Commuters wearing PPE take the Victoria Line to work in central London on Wednesday
Business Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said on BBC Question Time last night that the app, which had been trialled in the Isle of Wight, would be in place ‘this month’, adding that it would be rolled out when it is ‘robust’
Mr Prestedge added: ‘We know it will be imperfect, we know it will be clunky but we ask you to help us improve the service.’
He added that he expected the scheme to be running for two years.
POLICE FORCES ARE ‘PLANNING TO USE THEIR OWN CONTACT-TRACING SYSTEM’
Police forces plan to use their own contact tracing system amid concerns the government’s test and trace scheme could put officers in danger, according to reports.
The plans would see officers who test positive for Covid-19 not providing contacts to NHS tracers. Instead they would tell their police force, who would then take over the task of contact tracing to identify those at risk of getting the virus, Sky News reported.
Sources told the outlet that the Police Federation and National Police Chiefs’ Council were developing the plans – which could see police forces managing all contact tracing for police staff.
One source said there are ‘a host of areas we have to be very careful,’ including undercover operations and counter-terrorism.
The source added: ‘If I’m working undercover with another officer, giving those details across could give away not just their information but the methodology of how we work, which would put people in danger.’
Police forces are said to be concerned that contact tracing rules, when strictly applied, might see entire stations or units having to close down, with contact tracing compromising sensitive information.
One option reportedly under consideration is seconding staff from the NHS to police forces – but police chiefs are said to have doubts over whether Public Health England has enough resources for this.
The video was recorded the day before the scheme was launched by Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
Biologist Hugh Pennington, also on Question Time last night, said the tracing app would be essential before major lifting of lockdown.
‘It’s very important to have the contact-tracing up and running before we really do any massive release on lockdown, what’s happened so far is essentially pretty trivial chipping away on lockdown, and we’ll see if that has any significant effect on the R number,’ he said.
The programme requires anyone who tests positive for Covid-19 to provide phone numbers and email addresses of people they have been in close contact with.
A Department of Health spokesman said: ‘The new NHS test and trace service is up and running and is helping save lives.
Anyone in this country can now book a test and the majority who book a test get the results back within a day.
‘We have over 25,000 contact tracers in place, who have all been trained and are fully supported by public health experts.’
However, three contact tracers told the Daily Mail earlier this week that they had not made a single call.
Another claimed she had spent much of her time reupholstering a chair as she had so little to do.
On Wednesday the Prime Minister said it has already resulted in ‘thousands’ of people self-quarantining who would not otherwise have done so.
But the Government has refused to publish more detailed figures, saying that Ministers wanted to be sure they were reliable.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson told MPs on May 20 the test and trace operation would be ‘world-beating’.
Responding to Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, Mr Johnson said: ‘He has heard that we have growing confidence that we will have a test, track and trace operation that will be world-beating, and yes, it will be in place by 1 June.’
The Guardian reports that Mr Prestedge said he expected the test and trace programme to run for two years.
NHS England’s test and trace system, which is being lead by Baroness Dido Harding, is one of the key measures introduced to help the return to something approaching normality.
It relies on identifying people who have been in contact with a positive case and getting them to self-isolate.
Earlier this week Mr Johnson rejected Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s claim that the system is not yet fully operational.
Mr Prestedge’s comments came in a video that was recorded the day before the scheme was launched by Health Secretary Matt Hancock (pictured)
During Prime Minister’s Questions, Sir Keir said: ‘Two weeks ago today at the despatch box the Prime Minister promised that we will have a test, track and trace operation that will be ‘world-beating and yes it will be in place by June 1’.
‘But it isn’t. And a critical element – the ability of local authorities to respond to local spikes – is missing.’
Mr Johnson said the Labour leader was ‘casting aspersions on the efforts’ of those involved in setting up the programme, telling MPs that 40,000 people were involved in it.
‘I’m afraid he’s casting aspersions on the efforts of tens of thousands of people who have set up a test, track and trace system in this country from a standing start,’ the Prime Minister said.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: ‘The new NHS Test and Trace service is up and running and is helping save lives.
‘Anyone in this country can now book a test and the majority who book a test get the results back within a day.
‘We have over 25,000 contact tracers in place, who have all been trained and are fully supported in their work by public health experts.’