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NHS Scotland begins contact-tracing tech pilot

Three Scottish health boards are trialling coronavirus contact-tracing software which will be rolled out across the country at the end of this month

Scotland’s NHS has launched a two-week pilot to test Covid-19 coronavirus contact-tracing technology before it is deployed nationally.

Three health boards – NHS Fife, NHS Lanarkshire and NHS Highland – began testing the software today (18 May), as part of the government’s Coronavirus: test, trace, isolate and support strategy, which aims to keep transmission of the virus as low as possible as the lockdown restrictions ease.

Scottish health secretary Jeane Freeman said the software, developed in Scotland, builds on existing contract-tracing technology already in place across the NHS, and will enable Scottish health boards to trace possible contacts much more quickly.

“Technology will be an important tool to help us move towards the test, trace, isolate and support approach and safely exit lockdown,” said Freeman.

“The software we are developing in Scotland is built on a tried-and-trusted platform and will allow us to carry out contact tracing on a much larger scale than has been necessary until now.

“It will also focus on supporting public health teams identify outbreaks and reduce transmission in high-risk groups and settings by making it easier for staff to collect and record information.”

After the two-week pilot, all Scottish health boards will begin using the system by the end of May, and the software will be further enhanced in June, once it has been deployed across Scotland.

“The test, trace, isolate and support approach is about breaking the chain of transmission of the virus, but it remains vital that alongside this, people continue to follow physical distancing advice and practise good hand and cough hygiene,” said Freeman.

The Scottish government is also looking to recruit up to 2,000 staff to work on the contact-tracing system.

Read more about contact tracing

In England, NHSX has deployed a smartphone contact-tracing app, which uses proximity data to track the virus.

Once installed, the app will start logging the distance between a user’s smartphone and other phones nearby that also have the app installed using Bluetooth Low Energy. The anonymous log of how close users are to others will be stored securely on each user’s phone.

If a user becomes unwell with symptoms of Covid-19, they can use the app to inform the NHS, which, subject to sophisticated risk analysis, will trigger an anonymous alert to other app users with whom the user came into significant contact over the previous few days. The app has caused controversy, particulary around privacy and centralised data gathering.

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