NHS app is estimated to prevent 600,000 infections in UK

The estimate was provided by the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC), which reported that the NHS COVID-19 app has warned over 1.7 million users of potential exposure to the virus since its release in September.

The app, which had a rather troubled start, with a number of problems including the sending of ‘ghost alerts’ and a bug of failing to send self-isolation alerts, has now been downloaded 21.63 million times, representing coverage of 56% of the population aged 16 and over with a smartphone.

Research by scientists at the Alan Turing Institute and Oxford University shows that every 1% increase in the app’s users can result in a 2.3% reduction in cases. The same researchers also estimated, by finding a causal link between the use of the app and the reduction in the number of cases, that the NHS COVID-19 app has prevented 600,000 cases since its launch.

In addition to the contact tracing function, the app has several other functions:

  • it allows, through the reading of QR codes, to check in at places such as bars and restaurants and to be alerted if you have been in a place where you have had a coronavirus infection
  • allows you to know the level of coronavirus risk in your district
  • check your symptoms via the symptom checker. Coronavirus symptoms have been reported on the app over 1.4 million times in England and Wales since 24 September
  • book a diagnostic test
  • manage the countdown to the self-isolation period and access advice on how to cope with this period

In addition to English, the app is also available in Welsh, Arabic (modern standard), Bengali, Chinese (simplified), Gujarati, Polish, Punjabi (Gurmukhi script), Romanian, Somali, Turkish and Urdu.

The app can be used across UK borders in England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Jersey and Gibraltar, detecting users of other tracking apps and alerting them if they have been in contact with the coronavirus.

The app is CE-marked as a Class I medical device in the UK and has been developed in accordance with the European Commission Directive 93/42/EEC for Class I devices.

Comparing the data of the NHS app with Immuni, it can be seen that the former has twice as many downloads as the latter and that, above all, the number of notifications is completely different (1.7 million against 87,294). 

The English app has many useful functions, unlike the Italian one which only performs contact tracing functions. 

I think it would be useful to reflect carefully on the two experiences to understand, in the Italian case, what did not work and why. Learning from mistakes is fundamental for improvement.

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