Laura Sharman 03 June 2020

Contact tracing app could leave ‘many behind’ charity warns

The government's contact tracing app could exacerbate existing health inequalities, a charity has warned today.

A survey published by the Health Foundation shows that six in ten people say they are likely to download the app once it is released. However, there is a significant ‘digital divide’ based on occupation, age and educational level.

It found that while 71% of those with a degree say they are likely to download the app; this falls to just 38% for those who have no formal educational qualifications.

Almost three quarters (73%) of people in managerial, administrative or professional jobs say they are likely to download the app, but among the routine and manual workers, state pensioners and the unemployed, this figure falls to just half.

The charity warns this divide could leave some people at greater risk of contracting coronavirus than others.

Adam Steventon, director of data analytics at the Health Foundation, said: ‘The impact of Covid-19 is already being felt unequally across society and appears to be having a disproportionate impact on people living in more deprived areas, older people, and some ethnic minorities. Within that context, it’s especially concerning that people in lower paid jobs and those with less formal education say they are less likely to download and use the app, and of course not everyone has a smartphone.

‘NHSX must ensure that the benefits of the app are experienced by the communities who need these the most, while ensuring that the potential negative consequences of the app, such as false alerts, do not fall on those least able to withstand them. It is also vital that those who do not have access to the app, are protected as a priority by the government’s wider Test and Trace system and that a more comprehensive strategy to tackle health inequalities is put in place.’

A Department of Health spokesperson said: 'We have now launched NHS Test and Trace service which will bring together testing, contact tracing and outbreak management into an end-to-end service to stop the spread of the virus.

'The NHS COVID-19 App will be just one part of this and is designed to complement other forms of contact tracing process. All parts of society will benefit from the app.'

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