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Scottish health bodies accelerate mobile Covid-19 detection technology

Scottish regional and national government take the high and fast road to developing contact-tracing technology to assist in preventing further spread of Covid-19

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While the development of the official UK-wide contact-tracing app staggers on with no clear launch in sight, in Scotland, the development of mobile technology to prevent the spread of Covid-19 looks a lot healthier. Just days after the Scottish government announcement that it was to launch its own proximity tracing app, regional health authorities had deployed their own mobile technology.

Scottish Parliament first minister Nicola Sturgeon announced on 1 September that the country would be following both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland with an app developed by County Waterford company NearForm for its devolved health service.

Sturgeon’s SNP government had confirmed in July 2020 that such an app, based on Bluetooth technology to alert users if they have been in close contact with another user who has tested positive for Covid-19, was in development, and in a parliamentary speech she described the Protect Scotland app as a “significant enhancement” to the existing test and protect system in the country.

Days after Sturgeon was making her remarks, UK health secretary Matt Hancock took to national radio to defend the non-appearance of the UK-wide app, the second version of the product that was first promised, noting that it was working well in tests and that roll-out of the previous version had been “blocked” by one of the companies involved in it.

Taking its own road, in May 2020, NHS Scotland launched a two-week pilot to test Covid-19 contact-tracing technology before being deployed nationally. Three Scottish health boards – NHS Fife, NHS Lanarkshire and NHS Highland tested software as part of the Scottish government’s Coronavirus: Test, trace, isolate and support strategy.

As part of this programme, NHS Highland revealed it had signed a deal with Highland Health Ventures Ltd (HHVL), a company established with the remit to bring innovation into the healthcare system – in association with Wyld Networks – to test and deploy mobile mesh technology in care homes in Scotland to help protect residents, staff and visitors by preventing the spread of Covid-19 or other viruses.

In May 2020, data from the National Records of Scotland (NRS) shows that more than half of the recorded coronavirus deaths in Scotland over recent weeks were in care homes.

Read more about contact-tracing apps

The programme has now advanced to the point where the first live system has been installed at Castlehill Care Home in Inverness, led by HHVL under the guidance of NHS Highland. Castlehill Care Home is one of several care homes owned by Morar Living, part of the Simply UK Group.

The technology, which has been developed by Wyld Networks, uses an app on smartphones and geozones, software-based virtual walls surrounding the care home. The software decides whether visitors and staff can or cannot enter the facility based on peoples’ health status and level of risk. Once inside the care home, the technology monitors and alerts social distancing between staff, visitors and residents.

Also, heat maps are generated in real time to visualise areas where social distancing is being inadvertently broken. Changes can then be made to the building layouts, routines and room occupancy numbers. In the case of an outbreak of the virus, those at risk can be informed and scheduled for testing in the NHS.

“NHS Highland is interested in implementing many new measures to support care homes to help protect residents and staff and assist in preventing the spread of Covid-19, said Frances Hines, research, development and innovation manager at NHS Highland. “We are now seeking to bring together innovative technologies to deploy in care homes who wish to participate in supporting these actions,” she said.

Linda Meston, director of care for Morar Living, added: “We pride ourselves on providing the highest quality care while giving our residents the choices they would have if they were living independently. We have created a safe environment for our residents and staff in our care homes and believe that technology will play a vital role in ensuring that continued safety.”

“We have successfully implemented new innovative technologies into the healthcare system in Scotland, and believe that deploying this new solution from Wyld Networks will go a long way to help prevent further outbreaks of the virus not only in care homes, but also in business in general to help get people back to work safely and reboot the economy,” said HHVL director Alan White.

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