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Hancock strikes again!
Volunteers , Issue 1525
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ANOTHER FINE HANCOCK-UP: The health secretary achieves another digital triumph with his app for NHS volunteers
THE promised test-and-trace app has not been Matt Hancock’s only digital disaster in the pandemic. At the daily press briefing on 24 March, one day into lockdown, the health secretary appealed for 250,000 “volunteer responders” to support the NHS. Directed through an app called GoodSAM, this “army” would drive patients to hospital, deliver medicines from pharmacies and phone vulnerable people to check on their welfare.

GoodSAM, owned by medical entrepreneurs Mark Wilson and Ali Ghorbangholi, had until then been used to alert qualified medics to emergencies occurring in their vicinity. Although it had taken seven years to build GoodSAM’s UK database to 40,000, the company promised to repurpose it and scale it to 250,000 in three days. As it turned out, 750,000 people responded to Hancock’s call and recruitment was paused while the Royal Voluntary Service checked applicants’ bona fides.

Then the problems began. For the first three weeks the app had no “sign in” button, and instructions still appeared to be geared to its previous use. It couldn’t be used on PCs or laptops, and a month after launch was still crashing on Android phones. It drained phone batteries in a few hours. Reviews in app stores described it as “baffling”, “clunky” and “a waste of goodwill”. Others questioned what would happen to their personal data, which could include address, passport and DBS (disclosure and barring) information.

Not a single assignment
In the rush to get their digits out, no one at the Department of Health seems to have considered whether there were actually jobs to be done. NHS chief Sir Simon Stevens told MPs on the public accounts committee last week that about 300,000 “volunteering tasks” had been completed so far – which means that in the first three months of lockdown most volunteers weren’t given a single assignment.

“I’ve been available for 232 hours and only had one alert,” a volunteer from Bournemouth complained, “which was a false alarm.” Another Good Samaritan finally started receiving alerts after being on duty for more than 1,000 hours, but found that “unfortunately the process does not work as per the instructions. Worse still, when I phoned support on three occasions the staff did not know the process either so I did not help anyone.”

While all these helpers were twiddling their thumbs, the social care sector was pleading for the NHS to send some their way. “There’s probably a care home in need much closer to where these volunteers live than their local hospital,” Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, said in mid-April. “There appears to have been a major miscalculation here.” Not until 8 June did ministers agree to let care-home staff make use of Hancock’s army.

And the app reviews aren’t improving, despite updates. “I am NHS responder volunteer – this app won’t let me view the task I have accepted – I am lost and annoyed as someone has been waiting for me since Sunday and I have no way of finding details to contact them,” wrote one despairing user on 15 June.

More top stories in the latest issue:

FATEFUL FUNDRAISER
That November dinner attended by communities secretary Robert Jenrick with Dirty Des and colleagues was just a flipchart short of a full team meeting.

KNASTER SURPRISE
How Alexander Knaster, Tory donor and chief executive of a Russian bank, picked out Robert Jenrick for a handy £5,000 individual donation.

TESTING TESTING
The outsourcing of much of the test and trace system to Serco shows how much more effective public health officials are than unqualified subcontractors.

BIO-INSECURITY
Oops! The new Joint Biosecurity Centre, whose job is to set the UK’s Covid-19 alert level, won’t in fact be fully operational until late summer.

PPE SHOCKPILE
At the height of the CV-19 outbreak the firm that stores the UK’s emergency PPE supplies was busy, er, not paying rent and putting one over its landlord.

BITTER TASTE
Why thousands of tenant publicans have been stuck between a rock and a hard place in the run-up to reopening of the nation’s boozers.

CATCH-UP CATCH
The £350m fund for catch-up tutoring will reach struggling pupils in such a Byzantine way it risks draining schools’ pupil premium coffers even further.

DEDUCTIBLE ASSETS
As the UK needs all the tax it can get, HMRC – running the UK’s job protection scheme – decides to announce 2,000 redundancies of its own.

WHAT A COP-OUT
Following Black Lives Matter protests, chief constables have pledged to address diversity, inclusion and racial inequalities in policing. Sound familiar? It should.

MONEY TO BURN
Digital behemoth Amazon launches a new tech fund to speed transition to a low carbon economy on the very day it reveals a 15% rise in its own emissions.

PANDEMIC LATEST
From misguided quarantine rules and unreliable antibody tests to the growing educational gap, MD’s full round-up of the coronavirus crisis.

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Next issue on sale: 14th July 2020
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Private Eye Issue 1525
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Offshore swimming
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Health for all?
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