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Using NHS app to prove Covid-19 status ‘right thing’, ex-digital director says

Jamie Harris, PA Science Technology Reporter
·2-min read

Using the existing NHS app for holidaymakers in England to prove their coronavirus status is the right way to go, according to a former digital director for the health service.

The app – not to be confused with the NHS Covid-19 app – is used to book medical appointments, order repeat prescriptions and already displays any vaccines a person has had.

Rachel Murphy, former digital delivery director at NHS Digital, worked on the original project to develop the NHS app and believes using it to unlock travel is possible.

“I think it’s the right thing to do,” she said.

“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.”

Ms Murphy, who left her role with NHS Digital in 2017, said she was concerned the NHS would “spend a fortune” commissioning a third party to create another new app.

“I think that the NHS app is the best place for it,” she continued.

“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.”

Earlier this week, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps revealed the NHS app would be used as a tool for vaccine certification when travelling abroad.

Global Covid-19 cases and deaths
(PA Graphics)

However, the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) later said the app is “being considered” as part of the digital route.

Dr Philip Scott, chairman of the BCS Health and Care Executive – part of the BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT professional body – said there are still 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,” he said.

“Purely from an implementation perspective, it is vital that the app uses existing international interoperability standards rather than reinvent the wheel.”

Chiara Rustici, past chairwoman 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-19 status passes for international travel.

“Adapting the NHS app may well be a good way to do that,” she said.

“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.”