The most comprehensive evaluation of the NHS’s COVID-19 app has revealed the digital tool helped save thousands of lives in its first year alone.
The research comes from the Universities of Oxford and Warwick and details how, between September 2020 and September 2021, the app generated high user engagement and supported the prevention of approximately one million COVID-19 cases, 44,000 hospitalisations, and 9,600 deaths.
Following almost 10 million downloads in the app’s first few days, the study also showed how the app’s efficacy improved over time as rapid testing was more widely adopted – unlike its contemporaries across the continent, the health service’s app also maintained high user engagement throughout its lifespan, helping people avoid infection and transmission.
The paper’s senior author and Principal Investigator, Professor Christophe Fraser, said: “Many of us will remember being ‘pinged’ by the NHS COVID-19 app at the height of the pandemic, and the impact that self-isolating had on our daily lives.
“Our research shows that the NHS COVID-19 app worked, and it worked well. Through our analysis we estimate the app saved almost 10,000 lives in its first year alone.
“The app prevented people transmitting the virus by generating notifications that they had been exposed to confirmed cases. The app’s effectiveness improved over time, particularly as rapid testing became more widely adopted, reducing the need for people to self-isolate following a ‘ping’.
“We find that digital contact tracing, a relatively low-cost and rapidly available intervention is a valuable public health measure for reducing transmission in any future epidemic waves of COVID-19 or similar viruses.”
The UK Health Security Agency’s Chief Scientific Officer, Dr Isabel Oliver, added: “The NHS COVID-19 app is a really practical example of how modern technology can be used to protect the nation’s health and the economy during a pandemic, by letting people know if they had been in contact with a positive case of COVID-19 and providing advice to help reduce the risk of passing the virus on to other people.
“These findings indicate that the app made a key contribution to breaking the chains of transmission with an estimated 1 million cases, 44,000 hospitalisations, and 9,600 deaths prevented in the first year.
“We’ve consolidated the skills, technology and lessons of NHS Test and Trace, such as the potential applications of a contract tracing mobile app, into the UK Health Security Agency to inform preparedness for future pandemic threats. Our learnings from the pandemic continue to shape how we, and our partners around the world, respond to future public health risks.”
The research was published in the journal Nature Communications.