By: Chandan Borgohain
July 6 2023
£37 billion refers to the total budget allocated to the NHS Test and Trace program; the app itself did not cost this amount.
As the NHS COVID-19 app, introduced as part of the U.K. government's Test and Trace program in March 2020, shut down on April 27, 2023, some on social media claimed the government had spent £37 billion on it. A user took to Facebook on April 27 and wrote: "NHS Covid app finally scrapped, £37 billion and it didn't even work, who's accountable for that bulls up?" Another Facebook user shared a graphic image on April 24; the overlaid text reads, "The NHS COVID-19 app will close down on 27 April 2023. And it only cost £37 billion. The biggest transfer of wealth in human history!" The post has been shared 28 times at the time of writing this report.
However, the app did not cost £37 billion as claimed.
From credible reports, we have found that £37 billion was the total budget allocated to the NHS Test and Trace program in its first two years. According to a BBC report published on March 10, the U.K. government issued the amount in two parts, £22 billion in 2020-21 and £15 billion in 2021-22.
A report published by Digital Health on September 22, 2022, states that the cost of the app was expected to be around £35 million. "The total cost of the NHS COVID-19 contact-tracing app is expected to top £35 million, it has been revealed. Some £25 million is expected to be spent this financial year on the new app, due to launch on Thursday, while a further £10 million was spent developing the original operating model that was abandoned in June," the report said. A report published by The Independent on April 27, 2023, also corroborated this figure.
According to a National Audit Office (NAO) report titled "Test and trace in England - progress update," approximately £13.5 billion was spent on the NHS Test and Trace program in 2020-21 against the allocated budget of £22.2 billion. Data on page 35 of the report shows that £35 million was spent on the app.
The NHS Test and Trace COVID-19 app was launched in September 2020. Prior to this, there was a centralized coronavirus contact-tracing app that the U.K. government abandoned on June 18, 2020. According to the data mentioned on page 32 of the NAO report, the total amount spent on the original and later versions combined is £76 million.
The NAO has not yet published a report for 2021-22. Logically Facts contacted them asking for the current data showing the app's total cost and was told that "although the initial Spending Review allocation was £15 billion," the budget for "2021-22 was noted as £14.2 billion" according to NAO's "progress update report." They added, "While the 2020-21 and 2021-22 accounts include spend by the NHS Test & Trace Service, and NHSX, the accounts do not specifically identify spending on the COVID-19 app."
Therefore, it is unclear how much the total spend was on the app in 2021-22. However, since the budget allocation for 2021-22 was £14.2 billion, and spending in 2020-21 was £35 million, the total cost of the app cannot come close to £37 billion as claimed on social media.
Logically Facts has also contacted the U.K. Department of Health and Social Care and the U.K. Health Security Agency for current data on the app's total cost. This article will be updated if and when we receive a response.
£37 billion was the total budget allocated to the NHS Test and Trace program and was not the cost of the app alone. The cost of the NHS COVID-19 app was approximately £35 million in the first year and, even with additional spending in the second year, would not come close to £37 billion. Therefore, we have marked this claim as false.The COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to a lot of potentially dangerous misinformation. For reliable advice on COVID-19, including symptoms, prevention, and available treatment, please refer to the World Health Organization or your national healthcare authority.