Woman alerted to self-isolate by NHS app 179 minutes before 10-day isolation period ended

James Morris
·Senior news reporter, Yahoo News UK
·3-min read
Nicola Oakley was told by the NHS app to self-isolate at 9pm on Monday... with the isolation period ending 179 minutes later.
Nicola Oakley was told by the NHS app to self-isolate at 9pm on Monday... with the isolation period ending 179 minutes later.

The government’s contact tracing app told a user to self-isolate for a total of three hours.

Nicola Oakley was alerted by the NHS COVID-19 app at 9pm on Monday, with the self-isolation period ending at 11.59pm on the same night. A normal isolation period lasts 10 days.

The app is a key part of the government’s £22bn test and trace system, and is billed as “the fastest way to see if you're at risk from coronavirus”.

If an app user tests positive, they can choose to share their result anonymously with the app, which then sends alerts to other app users who have been in their vicinity “over the last few days”.

Oakley, who is Yahoo UK’s head of audience, said she was probably exposed when moving home earlier this month. “But the app didn't alert me to it until less than three hours before the isolation period ended.

“So I’ve been to the supermarket and park in the last week without knowing I’d been in contact with someone who tested positive.”

She added the three-hour isolation period was “a bit ridiculous”.

When asked by Yahoo News UK how this could happen, a Department of Health spokesman said: “It would depend on when the person they had contact with sought a test, when that test came back positive and when that was entered into the app.

Watch: Matt Hancock self-isolating after NHS app alert

“The point of contact with the individual starts as the 10-day point and it would count down from there.”

NHS Test and Trace, particularly its contact tracing function, has been much-criticised since launching in May last year.

However, test and trace chief Dido Harding insisted on Monday that it was having a “material impact” on tackling the pandemic.

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Appearing at the House of Commons public accounts committee, Baroness Harding was referred to a Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) admission in September last year that the system was only having a “marginal” impact on transmission.

Rejecting this, she told MPs: “There is no doubt that as we have built and scaled the service, we have learnt more and more and we are now hitting all of the operational contact tracing targets that Sage set us.

Handout screengrab from Parliament TV of Baroness Dido Harding, Executive Chair of NHS Test and Trace, giving evidence to the Public Accounts Committee on test and trace. Picture date: Monday January 18, 2021.
Dido Harding gives evidence to the public accounts committee on Monday. (PA)

“We are reaching more than 80% of people who test positive, we are reaching more than 90% of their contacts and the 92% of all contacts we reached last week – three-quarters of a million people – 97% of them we reached in less than 24 hours.

“So, no, I don’t believe we are having a marginal impact, actually. As measured, we are having a material impact in the fight against COVID.”

Watch: What you can and can't do during England's third national lockdown