• Launch of second version of contact tracing app expected to be announced imminently
  • Baroness Dido Harding admits there is “some noise” in the data produced by pilot trial on the Isle of Wight 

The launch of a second version of the NHS covid-19 contact tracing app is set to be announced imminently, HSJ understands.

Following the month-long trial on the Isle of Wight, sources close to the process say an updated version of the app – which is expected to be rolled out nationally – will be announced within the next few days.

During a meeting of the health and social care select committee on Wednesday, chair of NHS Improvement and contact tracing lead Baroness Dido Harding said a full evaluation of the Isle of Wight pilot scheme will be published “very soon”.

However, she admitted there is “some noise” in the data, potentially caused by people inputting incorrect postcodes, and the app has also been downloaded by people who do not live on the Isle of Wight. 

HSJ approached the Department for Health and Social Care and NHSX for more information on the latest version of the app and when it is due to be rolled out, but they did not respond before publication.

The government’s anticipated test and trace scheme was launched on 29 May without the contact tracing app. There were initially reports of the system crashing, as contact tracers were unable to log on, despite the UK’s contact tracing previously being hailed as “world beating” by the prime minister. 

During the select committee, Baroness Harding said that human tracing was actually the “bedrock” of the test and trace scheme, while the app is the “cherry on top of the cake”.

She said: “I see this as a proper multi-channel service and one of the learnings from the Isle of Wight has been actually having the local community engagement, human contact tracing is the bedrock of this.

“I actually see the app as the cherry on the cake rather than the cake itself.

“And that’s actually one of the reasons why we’ve launched the NHS test and trace service nationally first before the app because we need to embed that, and the trust in the service.”

The contact tracing app has faced a raft of public scrutiny. Last month HSJ reported that it had failed a series of early tests, including on cyber security and clinical safety. Others have raised concerns about functionality and privacy.

The Guardian reported today that full test and trace scheme would not be fully operational until the autumn.

There has also been debate over NHSX’s early decision to push forward with a centralised approach to the app, which means data is stored in a remote server, rather than on individuals’ phones. 

However, in May the housing, communities and local government secretary, Robert Jenrick, told the Andrew Marr show that the government was willing to switch models if necessary. The DHSC has not confirmed whether it has changed its approach.