News that the digital unit behind the much-maligned NHS Test and Trace app is working up plans for new Covid vaccine passports has led to dismay among MPs.
Michael Gove told sceptics of the idea on Monday that NHSX, the digital arm of the health service, is already undertaking work to develop the new Covid Status Certification, prompting groans from those present.
Just who they thought would develop the Covid passports if not the NHS is anyone’s guess, and it is also unclear why they are so concerned about NHSX holding the reins.
The test and trace app undoubtedly suffered a baptism of fire after it was forced to abandon its own bluetooth technology and ended up using Google’s and Apple’s software. But since then the main criticism has been that it is too efficient at alerting people that they have been in contact with someone who has tested positive.
For a Covid vaccine certificate to work properly, any app will need to have access to people’s vaccination data. It is unlikely any organisation other than the NHS would have the public’s trust when it came to accessing such information.
When people are vaccinated the record is uploaded via computer software called Pinnacle. This information is then relayed to one of three other software systems used by GPs around the UK.
According to experts in this area, a similar tech architecture is used for registering results of Covid tests.
For a credible, trustworthy Covid certification app to work it needs to be given access to the NHS database to suck out a person’s vaccination and testing records to verify that a person has indeed been immunised or tested for coronavirus. Realistically, this was only ever going to be an app produced by the NHS.
The big challenge facing the developers will be just how that proof of vaccination or the negative test result is presented to the doorman at the pub or theatre or the flight attendant at the check-in desk.
There have been suggestions of the UK following the Israeli model, which is to use a QR code called a “Green Pass”, which is shown alongside an ID card.
Ministers are awaiting the results of a trial it launched back in January, carried out by biometric and identity management firms Mvine and iProov, into the use of Covid certificates, which would allow people to show proof of vaccination and up to date test results using facial verification.