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Test and Trace Application

Volume 677: debated on Thursday 11 June 2020

What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care on the (a) development of the NHS test and trace app and (b) trial of that app on the Isle of Wight. (903086)

What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care on the (a) development of the NHS test and trace app and (b) trial of that app on the Isle of Wight. (903089)

The NHS test and trace service is already alerting the close recent contacts of everyone who tests positive for the virus, so that they can self-isolate to prevent the spread. The app is intended to complement that service and continues to be piloted on the Isle of Wight. Consideration is being given to next steps in light of the wider NHS test and trace programme.

Given that we have known for months about the disproportionate impact of coronavirus on black, Asian and minority ethnic communities across the UK, I am confused as to why the Government chose to trial the NHS contact tracing app on the Isle of Wight, an island with an overwhelmingly white population. We know that BAME communities are less likely to trust the app due to their experiences of discriminatory policing and there is potential for existing biases to be amplified by algorithms. With that in mind, does the Minister still think that the Isle of Wight was the right place to trial the app?

The hon. Gentleman makes a series of very important points. The Isle of Wight was an appropriate place in which to trial the app, because by definition trialling it in a geographically secure, as it were, community was one way to make sure that we could conduct that trial in an effective way and in a way that allowed us to learn lessons rapidly. Trialling the app in other parts of the United Kingdom would have posed significant challenges, but he is absolutely right to remind us that the BAME community is more affected by covid-19, and that there are elements within the BAME community that have concerns about the exercise of state power in maintaining public order and in other areas. We are very sensitive to both of those issues. It is absolutely critical that we continue to work to identify more effectively those factors among the BAME community and others which predispose them towards either catching the virus or suffering more adversely. Of course, when it comes to our proud tradition of policing by consent and the protection of civil liberties, we need to maintain those traditions in order to command the confidence of all our citizens.

It’s been a shambles, hasn’t it? Announced in May, hiring paused in mid-May, targets missed, tracers reporting that they have been paid to sit at home and watch television as there is no work for them—and now, changes to the app are being considered and it is not going to be working properly until the autumn. Does the Minister stand by his fulsome praise of the Health Secretary or agree with scientists who said only days ago that the Government’s whole test-and-trace strategy is simply not fit for purpose?

Well, I think it is fit for purpose—not just that but it is an effective way of ensuring that we can work together in order to contain the virus. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady says from a sedentary position that the scientists are wrong. I disagree with her; I think the scientists are right.