Downing Street denies reports government could ditch NHS contact tracing app for new software

Health secretary Matt Hancock arrives in Downing Street, in Westminster. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire.

Health secretary Matt Hancock arrives in Downing Street, in Westminster. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire. - Credit: PA

Downing Street has moved to quash reports that the NHS contact tracing app could be ditched for software used more commonly around globe.

In recent days a number of applicants for jobs as contact tracers have been told their recruitment status is 'on hold' because of a delay in the roll out of the official NHS app.

In an automated email, reported by Huff Post, applicants have been told that the delay was due to the fact the government were considering 'alternative' software.

The original email from HR GO Recruitment sent on Friday read: 'Unfortunately earlier today the roles were put on hold.

'This is due to a delay in the launch of the 'Track and Trace' App itself while the government considers an alternative app.

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'As and when the app (or an alternative) goes live, we will re-consider those applications already received, however please be aware that we have received an unprecedented number of applications for this role and therefore not all suitable candidates will be able to be put forward for the limited number of roles.'

The email raises questions about the NHS app which is currently being trialled on the Isle of Wight.

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Questions have been asked of the NHS and government why it was not utilising software that use technology produced by Apple and Google.

Countries including Germany, Estonia, Ireland and Switzerland have all made the move to such decentralised models.

The FT reported last week that the UK government contract for the app had been handed to the London office of Zuhlke Engineering, with a requirement to look at 'implementing native Apple and Google contact tracing APIs'.

The recruitment firm denied the claims made in the email, saying it was 'inaccurate' and 'wrong'. They said the first they knew about it was on Sunday and that there would be an internal investigation.

John Parkinson, HR GO's group chief information officer, said: 'What has been said is a miscommunication and false.

'We are not aware of any reason why track and trace would not be continuing as it should.

'We will be communicating with the applicants directly to correct that once we have completed our internal investigations.'

He added: 'This incident is isolated to one individual in the business and it was sent to multiple applicants as it is an automated reply.'

A Department for Health and Social Care spokesperson said: 'This email is inaccurate and we are trying to ascertain its origin because it is both wrong and could cause confusion.

'Our recruitment of contact tracers for our online and phone-based contact tracing service continues at pace. For those already recruited, their training programmes continue.

'The NHS contact tracing app is not on hold – and it would be completely wrong to suggest otherwise.

'There is no alternative app and the NHS continues to work constructively with many other organisations that are helping to develop and test the NHS Covid-19 app.'

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