In early 2020, the world started to ramp up their responses to the evolving global COVID-19 pandemic and the British Prime Minister issued a “call to arms” for support.
Under the direction of the United Kingdom’s Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), the NHS and their innovation arm (NHSX) developed the first iteration of the NHS COVID-19 app released by NHS Test and Trace.
By June, and with infected numbers climbing, restrictions were discovered with the app and the project had to pivot. The NHS COVID-19 app team researched contact tracing solutions that were being successfully implemented around the world, particularly in the QR code space, in order to develop a more robust product and get ahead of the infection through contact tracing.
The New Zealand Ministry of Health COVID Tracer app, designed and developed by RUSH, was identified as such a product and we began discussions with the NHS about implementing our tech solution in the UK.
RUSH were consulted on the NHS COVID-19 app programme, having stood out for the Ministry of Health product which included two native COVID Tracer apps, QR code generator and scanner.
We wrote the QR code generator and created the Joint Biosecurity Committee (JBC) tool which enables contract tracers to search by postcode, venue or poster in the UK and mark it at high risk. Then the JBC team queues up notifications and evaluates whether or not people need to be notified.
The QR component is an essential part of contact tracing because it means locations can be tagged and high risk environments can be identified, whereas Bluetooth alone will only trace person-to-person transmission.
Superspreader gatherings such as weddings or workplaces where dozens of people can get infected in a short time have been very damaging, and a Bluetooth-only solution is unlikely to identify all close contacts by physical proximity. But individuals identified as being at a venue can be notified quickly if one person gets tested positive, and that’s what we’ve learned is essential to containing a cluster.
The new NHS Test and Trace app has been designed to work alongside traditional contact tracing services and testing, to help people to understand if they are at risk of infection so they can take action to protect themselves and their communities.
With new app features including alerts based on postcode and QR check-in at venues, the NHS Test and Trace service can reach more people and further prevent the spread of COVID-19 which is of critical importance as people return to their normal lives.
As of 9 February 2021, there have been 21.7 million downloads of the Test and Trace app, more than 103 million QR check-ins and the identification of 253 at-risk venues. Health ministers believe the app has prevented about 600,000 cases of the disease.