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NHS Scotland tests contact tracing technology


Mark Say Managing Editor


NHS Scotland has begun tests of contact tracing software as part of its efforts to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

Fingers over keyboard

Three health boards – NHS Fife, Lanarkshire and Highland – began a two-week pilot yesterday and there are plans to roll out the software around the country by the end of the month, following which refinements are expected to be made.

It involves health boards collecting information digitally using software that has previously been used in tracing.

It is part of the Scottish Government’s ‘test, trace and isolate’ approach to the pandemic. This involves identifying cases of people contracting the virus, finding people they have been in close contact with, then asking those people to self-isolate for 14 days.

It contrasts to the plan in England to use a smartphone app to support contact tracing, placing more of an emphasis on the software supporting teams of manual tracers.

Well established

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Contact tracing is a well established public health intervention led by the NHS, and our health protection teams have experience and expertise in delivering contact tracing for a range of infectious diseases.

“Individuals are encouraged to report those who they were in contact with, however professional contact tracers can then trace people through a variety of routes. This might include contacting transport companies or taxi firms or trying to trace professional contacts.

“As a tried and tested approach, individuals can be confident that the information they give is held securely by the NHS, for a time-limited period, and not used for any purpose other than the one for which they gave the information.

“Local teams will provide this specialist support, and additional staff with relevant skills are already being brought into these teams, for example from other NHS services, NHS returners and Local Authority environmental health teams. These local teams will be supported by a national contact tracing support service.”

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said over 600 additional staff are being trained to use the software.

Important tool

“Technology will be an important tool to help us move towards the test, trace, isolate and support approach and safely exit lockdown,” she said. 

“The software we are developing in Scotland is built on a tried and trusted platform and will allow us to carry out contact tracing on a much larger scale than has been necessary until now. It will also focus on supporting public health teams identify outbreaks and reduce transmission in high risk groups and settings by making it easier for staff to collect and record information.

“The test, trace, isolate and support approach is about breaking the chain of transmission of the virus but it remains vital that alongside this people continue to follow physical distancing advice and practise good hand and cough hygiene.”

Image by Andy Smith, CC BY-SA 2.0 through flickr

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