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NHS Health Apps Library to close

The NHS Health Apps Library is shutting down after a two-year tenure, shortly after NHS-approved apps were found to leak data

The NHS Health Apps Library, which launched in March 2013, is due to close at the end of this week.

The library, which is part of the NHS Choices website, was created to make it easier to find NHS-endorsed health monitoring and treatment apps.

According to the NHS Health Apps Library website, the library was intended as a pilot when it launched, but that has now come to an end. 

The library came under fire late in September 2015 after a study, co-authored by researchers from Imperial College London, revealed that several NHS-approved apps were leaking data about their users, as reported by Computer Weekly. 

The study, which assessed all 79 apps in the library – all of which had been certified as “clinically safe and trustworthy” – revealed that 89% of them transmitted information to online services. None of them encrypted the personal data of their users when it was stored locally on their devices.

Some 66% of the apps didn’t use encryption when data was sent from the apps over the internet, while two apps were highlighted as featuring security issues that could leave users at risk of data theft, the study showed.

“All apps submitted to the Health Apps Library are checked to make sure they are relevant to people living in England, comply with data protection laws and comply with trusted sources of information, such as NHS Choices,” said the app library’s website.

Computer Weekly understands that the closure of the library is unrelated to the findings of the report and is mainly due to the government's work on a new endorsement model to kitemark approved health apps.

The endorsement model is being developed by The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, Public Health England and the Health and Social Care Information Centre. The pilot of the model begun in September 2015 and will be rolled out in 2016.

The project is being overseen by the National Information Board, which includes representatives from all the organisations involved in its development. 

In March 2015, NHS England launched a NHS mental health apps library “to increase access to psychological therapies and help to improve mental health outcomes on NHS Choices”.

An NHS England spokesperson said in a statement that it is working to upgrade the health apps library. 

"Building on the success of the mental health apps library, which assesses apps and digital tools against further clinical standards, we will launch a series of ‘apps stores’ to promote clinically validated apps in a range of other areas including diabetes, obesity prevention, maternity and early years, smoking cessation and COPD,” the spokesperson said.    

 Life and science minister George Freeman recently launched a £650,000 prize fund to develop mental health apps. 

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