Laughing UK health secretary launches COVID-19 Test and Trace programme with glitchy website and no phone app


Launched with website glitches and no associated phone app, England's Test and Trace programme - expected to help lift the nation safely out of its COVID-19 lockdown - went live this morning.

As befitting for its leader Baroness Dido Harding, the former TalkTalk CEO who was christened queen of carnage for her role in the telco's 2015 mega-breach, the Contract Tracing Advisory Service launched with a website presenting some NHS users with login issues.

LBC journalist Rachael Venables reported a service notice which read: "We are aware of a CTAS login issue for NHS professionals; this has been reported as a critical incident. Please refrain from contacting support, if you have a chat open for this reason please cancel it."

The Department of Health and Social Care denied the service had crashed and said: "As with all large operations of this kind, some staff did initially encounter issues logging on to their systems and these are rapidly being resolved."

Harding became chair of NHS Improvement in 2017, despite being CEO of TalkTalk in a period in which nearly 157,000 users' financial details were divulged at a cost to the business of £42m. She was appointed to lead the Test and Trace programme in May this year, when a smartphone app was expected to become a "key part".

Still being tested in the Isle of Wight, that app is not ready for the launch of the programme, which prime minister Boris Johnson announced would go live today during last night's Parliamentary Liaison Committee.

As trials of the technology continue, it has been found to be riddled with bugs and open to abuse.

In a decidedly low-tech scheme, the plan is for those testing positive for COVID-19 to get phone calls from NHS tracers, who will ask them who they have been in contact with. Any of those contacts deemed to be at risk will be advised to self-isolate for 14 days even if they are not ill.

According to Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw, Harding told MPs on a conference call that the system would not be fully operational at local level till the end of June.

On Thursday morning, health secretary Matt Hancock laughed his way through an interview with Sky News's Kay Burley in which he said: "The app is helpful, it is working on the Isle of Wight, but there is a reason that we haven't brought it in right at the start, which is that we are asking people to self-isolate even if they are healthy because the NHS has got in contact and informed them they are high risk… that is quite a big change and one of the things we have learned from the pilot is getting people used to that idea is important to do before we add the technological capability." ®

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