With news that this week the government is trialing the NHS contact-tracing app on the Isle of Wight, Extra asked EHPs what they thought.
PHE stopped contact tracing COVID-19 cases in mid-March and CIEH has been vocal in urging that it be re-started, and that World Health Organization advice to ‘track and trace’ be followed.
Controversy has surrounded the app with some scientists questioning how useful it will be, complaints around how procurement was carried out, and concerns around privacy issues.
Richard Short, an EH consultant and a Conservative parliamentary candidate in last year’s general election, was a bit wary of the app and thought it could be skewed away from the group it needed to capture.
He said: “Do I really want data like that to go into the ethosphere? I'm not a millennial so I'm not inclined to think ‘this is the be all and end all’. I think my children probably would be less worried about it.”
He pointed to a comment on social media saying it would be “great” if the app works on the Isle of Wight because the mobile phone coverage is so poor.
EH consultant John Machin also pointed out that there is a large elderly population on the island, who probably don’t use smartphones and so this could be setting the project up to fail. But Machin was also a little wary of the technology.
He added: “The other thing is, well, how did how did EH cope before the advent of smartphones? So, you know, it does make you wonder whether we're just delaying and we should just crack on and use the old fashioned tools that we had before, before the smartphones and the apps.”
He wondered why PHE didn’t let EHPs know who was infected within each council area so they could track and trace as they would for “any other communicable disease”. However, he thought that the app could help with people remembering where they had been – particularly when a person could be infectious for a lead in of five days before symptoms develop.
However, one local authority EHP who spoke to Extra on the condition of anonymity, pointed out that the data will only start being effective from the moment it is downloaded and activated. Reports on how many smart phone users will have to download the app for it to be effective range from 50% to 80% but it is clear large uptake will be needed.
He is deeply troubled by the controversy over the contract and added: “The whole thing for me is very questionable on a personal note, I have very serious concerns. Obviously on a professional note I would say that having an app to do contact tracing would be a good thing.”
He was however, concerned by the slow pace at setting this up. He said: “All of this should have been in place from day one and scaled up from there, but obviously that is not how it has been done. So at what point now do you go back to previous cases?
“It’s a complete minefield now doing it retrospectively or do you just do current cases? But then you're not going to know who's had it and who hasn't.”
Chris Hurst, an EH consultant specialising in noise, was very positive about the app – not too surprisingly as he was a founding developer of a noise app himself in 2012.
Hurst was impressed and thought the app seemed “really clever” the way it tracked between phones and alerted people if they’d come into close contact with an infected person. However, he felt it wasn’t a standalone answer and contact tracers were needed for people who didn't have smart phones, and to ensure those infected properly follow self-isolation measures.
Positive about EH’s role, Hurst added that he thought EHPs would be remembered for their contribution to tackling the crisis. “We were part of something,” he said.