Big tech companies called upon for Covid-19 testing and data processing

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The Department of Health and Social Care has drafted in big tech companies to help deliver coronavirus testing and data management.

Amazon and Delloitte are among the companies who will help the department deliver testing kits and collate patient data, according to privacy guidance published by Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).

The department will remain the data controller but “at different points in the process, other organisations may also have data controller status, depending on what they are doing with your information”, the guidance states.

“Other organisations will also carry out parts of the virus testing programme on behalf of DHSC but can only act on instructions provided to them by DHSC. These organisations are known as data processors. An example of such an organisation is Amazon, who will support the actions involved with delivering test kits.”

Currently three home testing kits, provided by Randox, Thermofisher and Medical Wire, are available. The tests will be delivered by Amazon.

All data gathered from the tests will be shared with government labs and National Pathology Exchange (NPEX), hosted by Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Trust.

Those who are asked to take part in the voluntary testing scheme will also be asked to provide their first and last name; date of birth; sex; mobile phone number; email address; address; NHS number; National Insurance Number; and other household members names.

The government has pledged to do 100,000 coronavirus tests a day by the end of April, but has faced repeated criticism for its slow response to the need for testing. Currently, around 20,000 tests are carried out and Dominic Raab, who is filling in for the Prime Minister, has said current capacity is 40,000.

Collecting data on sex is an important step for any future research on the virus. The government has faced criticism for failing to collect sex disaggregated Covid-19 data in its online data collection tool.

The Coronavirus Status Checker, launched by Health Secretary Matt Hancock on 4 April, asks people to with potential coronavirus symptoms to answer a series of questions about their experience but fails to ask for their sex – a data gap that campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez said “needs to be addressed immediately”.

Current evidence suggests Covid-19 has a higher death rate among men.

Role of data processors:

  • registration of tests
  • delivery of your testing kit – the data processor is Amazon
  • schedule appointments and capture information at the point of testing
  • certify identity at the regional test
  • link personal details to the test result
  • send test results via email
  • forward test results, email address and phone number to NHS Business Services Authority to send test results. NHS BSA will provide results to all UK residents
  • receive data to enable results, and supporting information, to be communicated by text and email

Amazon has also been called up to help NHS England and NHSX develop a data platform to better inform the national response to the outbreak.

The company, alongside Microsoft and Google, was drafted in to help ensure the platform is secure, as have Palantir Technologies, a UK-based data processing company and Faculty, a London-based AI specialist.

The platform, hosted on NHS Futures, brings together multiple NHS and social care data sets into a single location. It will include data such as 111 online and call centre data from NHS Digital, as well as Covid-19 test result data from Public Health England.

Requests to view the data will be reviewed on an individual basis by NHS England and NHSX.

The full list of testing data controllers and data processors can be found here.

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