The chief executive of NHSX has told a government committee that he wants to “knock on the head” any suggestion that data from the NHS Covid-19 contact-tracing app will be shared with the private sector.
Matthew Gould was grilled by MPs on the Science and Technology Committee on Tuesday (April 28) about the app, which uses Bluetooth technology to alert users if they have come into contact with someone experiencing coronavirus symptoms. Once a user inputs their symptoms the app it automatically logs the distance between their phone and other phones nearby and provides advice accordingly.
When the subject of concerns surrounding data being sold the private sector was brought up, Gould said he wanted to “knock on the head” any suggestion that this would be the case with the NHS contact-tracing app, adding there is a “series of protections in place” for people’s data.
“I would be very sorry if people started talking about sharing this data with the private sector as if it was a possibility,” he said.
“I do not see it as a possibility.”
Whether the data would be shared with other government departments was also raised.
In response, Gould said: “We’ve been clear the data will only ever be used for the NHS.”
The NHSX chief also added that the entire process relies on the “consent, engagement and willingness” of the public.
More on Covid-19 contact tracing apps
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- Imperial white paper outlines key data questions for contact-tracing tech
- ‘Absence of evidence’ for Covid-19 contact-tracing apps, review finds
- Digital Health Unplugged: April news team debrief (from home)
- NHSX must be ‘upfront’ about contact-tracing app, privacy group says
Earlier in the session he had also highlighted the importance of public trust and how crucial it will be to the uptake of people downloading and using the app.
“It [public downloads] will require us to earn and keep the trust of people, that we are doing this in the right way and that they understand what we are doing and they can trust us with the way we are doing it,” Gould said.
NHSX has set up an ethics advisory board to oversee the development of the app, which will be led by Professor Sir Jonathan Montgomery, of University College London. Montgomery was previously head of the Nuffield Council on bioethics.
However, not much is known about when the app will be available to the wider public, though it has been confirmed a pilot is currently taking place in the north of England.
When pressed by MPs on a date, Gould said that “subject to the trials” and a roll out in a smaller area, we could “technically” see the app being launch in “two to three weeks”.
Later on that day, health secretary Matt Hancock, appeared to also confirm this when he said at the government press briefing that he hopes the app will be available “by the middle of May”.