IBM wins contract to support NHS App

Smartphone software set to link more services to patients despite privacy fears

NHS Digital has awarded IBM a £52.4 million ($60.2 million) contract for supporting and developing the NHS App, which the UK government plans to make the standard way for health services to communicate with patients.

In a contract award notice published late last month, the now defunct Department of Health agency said Big Blue had won the deal for consulting, software development, and support for the NHS App, first launched in early 2019.

"The NHS's Long-Term Plan objectives state that the NHS App will create a standard online way for people to access the NHS and that the app will work seamlessly with other services at national and local levels and, where appropriate, be integrated into patient pathways," the notice said.

The notice added that the NHS App gives patients access to core NHS transaction services and visibility of their records.

Currently available for download in both the Apple and Google Play stores, the NHS App provides a "simple and secure way for people to access a range of NHS services on their mobile device or computer," the notice said.

The deal with IBM is set to last four years and end in June 2026.

The NHS App preceded the COVID-19 track and trace app developed by NHS Test and Trace. The first iteration of the Test and Trace app never really launched and was abandoned in preference for a model developed by Google and Apple.

The NHS App does play a role in the pandemic recovery by supporting so-called vaccine passports.

In May last year, the NHS App started to register vaccination status, despite warnings that the technology could lead to identifiable medical information being exposed.

A study by campaign group Big Brother Watch concluded that COVID certificates using the NHS App would be "intrinsically linked to individuals' identities... as NHS records contain a wealth of identifiable, sensitive information including NHS numbers."

That report [PDF] stated: "Using the NHS App for proof of a vaccine comes with a significant further privacy risk due to the wealth of other personal information available within it, from prescriptions to addresses, and these issues are yet to be addressed." ®

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