TWO WEEKS ON: The Island is still leading the way

As the UK prepares for a national rollout of a full trace and test programme, the Isle of Wight continues to provide invaluable feedback to inform the use of a contact tracing app as part of this.

With over 53,000 Islanders having now downloaded NHSX’s app – equating to more than two thirds of the approximately 80,000 residents with a compatible smartphone – the Government is able to see how it works in practise within a defined community.

In the past few days, the Island’s MP Bob Seely has spoken with a range of public sector professionals – who continue to analyse the operation of the app (and the wider trace and test scheme) – as well as Government Ministers.

Bob said: “The app remains an important part of the trace and test programme which the UK is putting in place. It is not, and never has been, a stand-alone project, but is part of the wider three-pronged approach: the app, wider tracing and a comprehensive test programme. NHSX – the digital arm of the NHS – and Public Health England continue to work to ensure an integrated scheme.

“The app being used on the Island at the moment is effectively a beta version. It is and remains fully usable, and (a) people are still able to report symptoms through it and (b) notifications of being in contact with someone who has developed symptoms are being received, with instructions on what to do next.

“There will be upgrades to it and when we know more, I will pass that information on, but nothing specifically has changed. The app continues to be used and tested prior to national roll-out.

“I would ask Islanders to download (or continue with) the app. It helps to keep us safe, to reduce the Covid-19 infections on the Island and assist the rest of the country. Every day, health and digital professionals are learning more about how the app works in practise and identifying how it can be improved.

“I also welcome the fact that NHSX have enabled independent evaluation of the app to take place. The source code was published several days ago, thereby allowing third parties to scrutinise it and detect any vulnerabilities. The issues being identified are very low risk and are now being addressed as the app continues to improve ahead of fuller integration with the wider trace and test programme.

“We still have at least another week of the Island continuing to undertake this important role for the rest of the UK, so I would encourage all those using the app to provide feedback online and / or through my office. Working together, we can help make ourselves – and our country – safer.

“I would also like to thank others for their efforts in raising queries and disseminating information. The local media continues to ask a range of questions, and the local Labour Party has done the same, with answers published online as recently as yesterday. This type of constructive scrutiny – from the media, some other political representatives and technical experts who are “stress testing” the app – is important in a democratic society. The Isle of Wight Council and I are also adding to that feedback, as do Islanders by responding to the survey or giving feedback over the phone.

“Finally, I would like to address queries which have been raised about the turnaround time for test results. I have been advised that some temporary operational issues in the laboratory network had a short-term impact on both the turnaround time for samples and the proportion that returned a ‘void’ result. These have now been resolved.

“At the moment, 93% of test results are now being delivered within 48 hours of samples being taken.

“Furthermore, I am advised that currently only 3.5% of samples are voided (for example if the swab did not collect enough material), and those affected are being asked to book a re-test. These are issues which are being resolved as the system continues to improve. If you are booking a test, please read the instructions carefully as even items such as not putting the label on in the correct way can slow down test turnaround. Glitches are being ironed out, but clearly this has been one.

“What is clear is this: the NHS Covid-19 app – along with the wider test and trace scheme – are important for the Island and our country. We are making good progress.

“It is important that we continue to communicate as this progress is secured, whilst acknowledging that there will always be room for improvement and refinement in this rapidly evolving programme. I once thank fellow Islanders for this vital role that they are undertaking for everyone in our community, and the rest of the country.”