The national NHS Covid-19 app has been developed to support measures to trace and isolate people who have been in contact with infected individuals. This is important to help prevent spread of the virus. The more people who download and use the app the greater the prospect that people who may have Covid-19, but otherwise wouldn’t be traced, can be identified and instructed to self-isolate. GPs should consider their role, as part of health promotion, in encouraging people to utilise this app. The app has several functions:
- Venue check-in using QR codes: this alerts the user if they have visited a venue where they may have come into contact with someone who has tested positive for This venue data is stored on the app for 21 days. A user can delete this data at any time.
- Symptom checker.
- Links to the latest Covid-19 advice.
- Ability to enter test results.
- Contract tracing.
- Covid-19 risk level (based on the postcode district entered).
GPs and practice staff will need to consider some issues when downloading this app for their own use or when considering issues pertinent to the practice:
Personal use by healthcare staff
- Staff may want to pause the contract tracing functionality whilst in the practice.
- At work healthcare staff should be utilising PPE with any patient contact so will already be ‘protected’.
- The app does not use any geolocation services, so has no way of telling where a user This was built into the app to ensure as much privacy as possible was retained and no unnecessary data captured.
- If a staff member forgets to turn off contact tracing whilst in the practice and a contact subsequently tests positive for Covid-19 there is no way to determine whether or not the interaction happened in the practice.
- Contact tracing via the app works by alerting the user if they have been in close contact (within 2m for 15 minutes or more) with another app user who tests positive for Covid-19.
- This function uses QR codes to alert the user if they have been in close contact (within 2m for 15 minutes or more) with another app user who tests positive for Covid-19.
- If there is evidence of close contact with another app user who tests positive for Covid-19, the app user would then be contacted with public health advice on what to do.
Consideration for practices
- Practices may want to generate and display a QR code to allow patients to check-in on arrival at the practice, and as part of the wider effort to encourage people to download and utilise the app.
- Practices are not obliged to do this as there will be an accurate log through the appointment system of anyone attending the practice.
- If patients enter the practice for reasons other than attending a scheduled appointment, they must be logged.
Data and privacy
The app is designed so that nobody will know who the app user is or where the app user is, using proven technology developed by Apple and Google called ‘exposure notification’ and ‘exposure logging’. The app uses random IDS that cannot be used (by the NHS, the government, or any third party) to identify the user or who the user has spent time with. The technology allows the app to send the user alerts when they have been near another app users who tests positive for coronavirus (Covid-19).
The data collected by the app is stored on the phone. No-one can see or use this data unless the user chooses to submit it. The app user can delete the app and its data at any time. The app can only access data entered by the user including: the postcode district; a history of the places the user has checked into over the last 14 days; the user’s last test result (if they have entered this into the app or ordered the test via the app); and the start date of the user’s symptoms if entered via the symptom checker.
The app cannot:
- Use the user’s GPS location or track previous locations.
- Be used to check or monitor whether the user is self-isolating.
- Be used by law enforcement to identify or track the user.
- See personal information on the user’s phone, such as messages, phone contacts etc.
The app is free to download and is available for anyone in England and Wales over the age of 16 years old. It requires iOS 13.5 or later on an iPhone and 6.0 or upwards on android. It is available in English, Welsh, Bengali, Urdu, Gujarati, Punjabi (Gurmukhi script), Chinese (Simplified), Romanian, Turkish and Arabic (Modern Standard). Additional languages and refinements will follow.