30 April 2021

Adapting the NHS app to allow UK travellers abroad to prove their COVID status is the right decision by government, IT industry experts say. The app currently used to book GP appointments and access medical records can be effectively upgraded because it is open source and supported by NHS staff, according to BCS The Chartered Institute for IT.

Rachel Murphy, a Fellow of BCS, and a former Digital Delivery Director at NHS Digital “I think it’s the right thing to do. The thought of the NHS trying to rustle up another solution of the app variety, unnecessarily, felt ludicrous to me.

“It takes a lot, from an interoperability perspective, to serve these solutions up. To pull that data from multiple sources to create a really rich and useful set of data, you have to solve some of those interoperability issues and challenges.

“My real concern was the NHS was going to commission another third party, spend a fortune on developing something else that didn’t integrate and didn’t share that information, so I think that the NHS app is the best place for it.

‘It’s open-source, it’s managed and supported by NHS staff so I’m a big advocate for it. From a personal standpoint, I have the NHS app on my phone, and I can demonstrate that I’ve had both jabs, along with where I had them done and what they were.’

Rachel worked on the original project to develop and roll out the NHS app. She has now left the NHS to create her own company, Difrent, a specialist digital delivery services firm.

Rick Chandler, who chairs the BCS’ Communications Management Association, and was on the steering group for the UK ID Card said: “The NHS App and the NHSX team that are developing it are keeping it ‘Open’ and I think it is better than the dozens of others I have seen.

“The NHS COVID-19 app was designed to track people and places and has no access to medical records. It was designed controversially to use Bluetooth which historically is known to have been breached.’

Dr Philip Scott, Chair of the BCS Health and Care Executive added: ‘There are of course questions about security, integrity and provenance of the data.

“I have no objection in principle to the concept of a vaccine passport as long as it is designed and implemented wisely. Purely from an implementation perspective, it is vital that the app uses existing international interoperability standards rather than re-invent the wheel.

Dott. Chiara Rustici, past Chair of the BCS Law Specialist Group and independent data regulation academic said: 'It is important for countries to have the infrastructure ready to deploy COVID status passes for international travel when the right time for that travel comes.

“Adapting the NHS app may well be a good way to do that. It is vital however, not to mistake technological readiness with pandemic strategy. Let's have the technology ready but accept that global epidemiological and immunological parameters must dictate if and when the right time to deploy COVID Passport technology has come. We can’t risk COVID-19 Passports becoming this virus' fifth column."

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