The Scottish Government is “scaling up” an app already used to trace contacts of people who catch STIs to help in the battle against coronavirus.
Health secretary Jeane Freeman said that work was being done “building on an app that already exists and is used in Scotland to trace contacts for other infectious diseases, primarily sexually-transmitted diseases”.
Answering questions from MSPs at Holyrood, she added: “That is being scaled up now to complement our strategy.”
Freeman stressed the “core” work for the Scottish Government’s new “test, trace and isolate” strategy in response to Covid-19 would be carried out by a team of thousands of “tracers”.
She explained that the “overall strategy relies primarily on individuals who will be the tracers of contacts”, saying this was thought to be “the most reliable way to take this forward”.
With an estimated 2000 people needed to do this work, the health secretary said those working in health protection teams for NHS boards who already carry out “this kind of work for other kinds of infections” could be used.
She added: “That will be assisted by the use of digital technology.
“The digital technology we are confident in using is the technology that is being developed by our own Digital Health and Care Institute attached to the University of Strathclyde, building on an app that already exists and is used in Scotland to trace contacts for other infectious diseases, primarily sexually transmitted diseases, so that is being scaled up now to complement our strategy.”
Meanwhile she said the Scottish Government had “not yet taken a view” on the contact-tracing app the UK Government is testing.
Freeman said ministers in Scotland wanted to know more about issues such as data security and confidentiality.
Tory MSP Brian Whittle suggested it would be “much more beneficial to have a cross-UK policy here that would tackle this much better”, instead of having different apps on different sides of the border.
Freeman said the Scottish Government would take a “measured decision” on whether to take part in the UK Government scheme.
UK health secretary Matt Hancock has already insisted it is “completely wrong” to say that the app represents a threat to civil liberties.
Instead, he described it is a “very, very positive step” which will enable people to regain some of the freedoms they had lost as a result of the lockdown.
Freeman told Holyrood: “In terms of the UK Government’s proximity app, this is the one people will have seen in the media and I believe is being trialled in the Isle of Wight.
“We have not yet taken a view on that app, and that is largely because we still await detailed technical information from the UK Government about it, assurance about the security of data that it collects, the confidentiality of data, and importantly that what it identifies fits into the Scottish NHS system so the data transfer works well.”
She said: “When we get that information we will be able to take a measured decision about whether we believe that particular proximity app will enhance our strategy or not.”