• Six of ten apps pulled provided by Public Health England
  • Include Couch to 5k and NHS Smoke Free
  • Introduction of GDPR prompted review of apps on NHS Apps Library 

Couch to 5k is among 10 apps which have been removed from the NHS’ digital library after failing to go through data protection checks.

According to NHS Digital’s 2018-19 annual reports and accounts, the apps were pulled from the NHS Apps Library after they failed to provide information for a new general data protection regulation assessment. 

Six of the axed apps were provided by Public Health England, including Couch to 5k, the very popular fitness app, NHS Smoke Free and the Change 4 life food scanner. 

The NHS Apps Library showcases dozens of approved apps which are assessed against a range of NHS standards, including a BMI calculator and tools to help people manage their mental health.

The NHS published updated General Data Protection Regulation guidance to providers in June 2018, outlining their data protection responsibilities.

This prompted an assessment of all 70 apps on the library to determine their compliance with the new regulations, according to the NHS Digital report. 

NHS Digital has confirmed the providers of 14 apps which were found to be non-compliant, or did not provide information needed for the assessment, were given until March 2019 to ensure the apps met GDPR standards. Ten apps which “failed to satisfy assessors” by this deadline were removed from the library. 

The report, published last week, stated: “In June 2018, we published updated guidance to developers explaining their responsibilities under the GDPR.

“All apps on the NHS Apps Library were assessed for compliance with the new regulations and 56 of the 70 were approved.

“Fourteen apps have been required to take immediate action to address GDPR issues. Ten apps have been removed because they were unable to satisfy the assessors.”

The report added: “To increase the number of trusted apps available to the public and our health and care partners, we developed a framework to allow the recruitment of third-party organisations as approved assessors of apps and invited six to join the process in May 2019.”

An NHS Digital spokesperson said the 10 apps did not submit information about their apps for reassessment, adding “they did not fail an assessment, they just didn’t go through the assessment process”.

The spokesperson added: “We continue to work closely with Public Health England and look forward to working with them to go through the NHS App Library assessment process.”

Public Health England’s director of marketing Sheila Mitchell added: “Our apps are GDPR compliant and all of them go through continuous improvement, for example Couch to 5K was updated a few months ago. We have been aligning our in house standards with NHS Digital’s and will work with them to place our apps in its library. In the meantime they are available on major app stores.”

In March 2018, two online private health providers – Babylon Health and Now Healthcare – were dropped from the library after the NHS decided it was no longer appropriate to promote non-NHS services.

Both apps passed an NHS assessment which focused on security and safety to get onto the app library. The NHS confirmed the apps still met those standards when they were dropped from the library.

Couch to 5k is a popular app aimed at helping people take up running. At time of writing, the app has had more than 500,000 downloads from the Google Play store and has a 4.8 star rating from almost 90,000 ratings on the Apple App store.

GDPR, a piece of EU legislation, was enacted in the UK under the Data Protection Act in May 2018. 

A full list of the apps removed from the library:

Couch to 5k - Public Health England 

Easy Meals - Public Health England 

NHS Smoke Free - Public Health England 

Smart Recipes - Public Health England 

Change 4 life food scanner - Public Health England 

Active 10 - Public Health England 

Talking Point - Alzheimer’s Society 

Rally Round - Rally Round 

Rally Round Older Person Version - Rally Round 

Sidekick Health - GoodlifeMe AB