‘Misstep after misstep' | Rec firm at centre of COVID-19 tracing row

Rec firm at centre of COVID-19 tracing row

A recruitment firm has been caught up in a row over the coronavirus tracing app, after applicants set to become contact tracers for the NHS were informed that recruitment efforts were on hold while the UK Government considered an alternative app.

According to The Guardian, ministers have since been accused of ‘misstep after misstep’ due to the change in circumstances.

Despite this, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove stated yesterday that the track and trace scheme would be ready to launch nationwide by the end of May, with just over 17,000 contact tracers already hired.

However, in emails obtained by The Guardian, which were sent this weekend by one of the private-sector firms heading up the recruitment process, recruitment firm HR Go stated that hiring had been put on hold.

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The Guardian revealed that the emails said: “Thank you for your online application for this role. Unfortunately, earlier today the roles were put on hold. This is due to a delay in the launch of the ‘Track and Trace’ app itself while the Government considers an alternative app.”

When confronted by The Guardian about the emails, a spokesperson for HR Go claimed: “What has been said is a miscommunication and false. We are not aware of any reason why Track and Trace [sic] would not being continuing as it should. We will be communicating with the applicants directly to correct that once we have completed our internal investigations.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said the emails were ‘wrong and could cause confusion’ and that recruitment for both online and phone-based contact-tracing service was continuing ‘at pace’.  

Jon Ashworth, Shadow Health Secretary, added: “Test, trace and isolate is fundamental to managing and controlling this virus and safely easing lockdown – yet the Government’s approach has been increasingly chaotic, with misstep after misstep.”

The NHS has since developed its own coronavirus tracking app. Its digital arm, NHSX, designed the app which will hold data centrally, instead of choosing an alternative from the likes of Google or Apple that would run in a decentralised way.

As a result, the contact tracers, many of which are working on a remote basis at home, will work alongside the app to offer advice to those suffering from coronavirus.

It has been revealed that ministers want to be able to use the data collected via the app to analyse the spread of COVID-19, to help them identify areas where a potential outbreak may happen to impose potential lockdowns.

However, unfortunately the app is working against constraints in modern smartphones that only Google and Apple can work around. Plus, it also comes littered with several privacy concerns which would put many individuals off from using it.  

Those who applied for contact-tracing jobs through the Government’s Gov.co.uk site were informed that: “As and when the app (or an alternative) goes live, we will reconsider those applications already received, however please be aware that we have received an unprecedented number of applications for this role and therefore not all suitable candidates will be able to be put forward.”

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