DR MAX PEMBERTON: Why doctors have chosen to delete Test and Trace app

DR MAX PEMBERTON: Why doctors have chosen to delete Test and Trace app

07/08/2021

DR MAX PEMBERTON: Why doctors like me have chosen to delete the NHS Test and Trace app

When I downloaded the NHS Test and Trace app I thought I was doing something sensible, diligent and public-spirited. Like many of my medical colleagues, I believed I was doing my bit to stop the spread of Covid-19.

Soon though, we began to realise it wasn’t so simple. The reality of working in a hospital meant we were surrounded by people with Covid. You couldn’t avoid them, particularly at the height of the pandemic.

Colleagues were constantly being sent home to isolate even if, like me, they were double jabbed. Patients were suffering as a result. So, along with many other clinicians, I have long since deleted the app.

We heard rumours of doctors or nurses being ‘pinged’ after just walking down corridors near wards with Covid patients

The NHS Covid-19 app does allow you to ‘pause’ contact tracing while working in clinical areas in full PPE. But it is a complicated affair to keep remembering to pause and un-pause depending on where you are, what you are wearing and whether the patient or other staff are wearing masks.

We heard rumours of doctors or nurses being ‘pinged’ after just walking down corridors near wards with Covid patients.

There was a constant threat that anyone might get sent home to self-isolate and this would have tremendous impacts on the service. Some wards were already running on a skeleton staff because people had been sent home to self-isolate. The app risked bringing the NHS to its knees.

Just this week, a colleague was sent home after being ‘pinged’, leaving an entire department without a consultant. As widespread regular ‘lateral’ flow testing began to be rolled out – which saw staff testing themselves at least three times a week – it seemed less relevant.

Indeed, regular lateral flow testing was introduced for the NHS specifically to address the appalling staff shortages that were the result of the NHS’s Covid policy – which stated that anyone with symptoms must stay at home for seven days.

If we doctors had picked up the virus, we would soon know anyway because we were being tested so regularly

I had already been forced to self-isolate several times after being exposed to confirmed cases of Covid, meaning entire clinics being cancelled, on-calls hastily rearranged and locums booked 

What was the point in having the vaccine if we still had to keep self-isolating at the drop of a hat – or ping of a mobile?

So during the pandemic, up to one in four doctors were at home self-isolating at any one time. Regular testing was intended to put a stop to this, but the app put us back to square one.

The risks of being sent home – with the consequent, serious impact on patients – began to far outweigh the benefits of the app.

If we doctors had picked up the virus, we would soon know anyway because we were being tested so regularly. When my boss at the time found out I’d downloaded the app, he was horrified.

What if it went off after seeing a patient and I was sent home? I had already been forced to self-isolate several times after being exposed to confirmed cases of Covid, meaning entire clinics being cancelled, on-calls hastily rearranged and locums booked. It was costly both in terms of administration and patient care.

Each time I was sent home, I consistently tested negative meaning I could have continued working. The idea that would keep happening was simply too much once vaccination started.

I think this was the tipping point for many NHS staff. What was the point in having the vaccine if we still had to keep self-isolating at the drop of a hat – or ping of a mobile? It seemed ridiculous so I, along with a significant number of others I suspect, quietly pressed ‘delete’.

Each time I was sent home, I consistently tested negative meaning I could have continued working

The risks of being sent home – with the consequent, serious impact on patients – began to far outweigh the benefits of the app

When I asked medical friends this week who still uses the app, not one said they did.

They have either turned it off or deleted it entirely. Earlier this week Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, raised fears of ‘huge swathes’ of public services unable to cope in the coming weeks because of the numbers self-isolating.

Ashworth said changes planned for August 16 should be brought forward, with people given daily lateral flow tests and PCR tests where needed (to confirm a positive lateral flow). This so-called ‘test and release’ approach would mean that those who tested negative could quickly return to work, preventing the chaos and disruption that occurred last year.

A sense of duty and a desire to do the right thing prompted doctors and nurses to download the app. Now, seeing the pandemonium it brings, is it any surprise we are giving up on it?

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