Warning that elderly could be left behind by digital virus tracing

The elderly should not be left behind as the fight against the spread of coronavirus goes digital, the Scottish Government has been warned.

The Scottish Conservatives are uring the government to ensure the elderly are not left behind as the fight against coronavirus goes digital.
The Scottish Conservatives are uring the government to ensure the elderly are not left behind as the fight against coronavirus goes digital.

Older people, and other vulnerable groups, who are most at risk are in danger of being left behind in the government’s push to test, trace and isolate (TTI) with the help of technology, the Scottish Conservatives have said.

Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw has said the elderly could struggle to use apps if people are asked to register symptoms digitally.

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Nicola Sturgeon yesterday revealed the Scottish Government’s new TTI strategy, which includes the development of a secure web-based tool for the NHS in Scotland, which will allow “those who are able to input details of people that they have been in close contact with, and for these to be sent directly and securely to contact tracing teams.”

And while she said the government was “cautious” about the UK government’s development of a tracing app and potential issues around privacy, the government TTI paper said the Scottish Government wanted to “maximise” its involvement in the development of the app as an enhancement to a more people-led contract tracing scheme.

The paper added: “we also recognise that not everyone in Scotland will want, or be able, to use a web-based tool, and so we will ensure that telephone support will be available for everyone who needs it.”

Mr Carlaw said: “Of course technology should be used where it can be shown to help in the fight against coronavirus, but we need to remember that a significant proportion of the population – which happens to be those most at risk from the virus – won’t be able to easily access or use this app.

“We need urgent clarification from the Scottish Government about how it intends to include elderly people in this drive, and what plans it has to ensure no-one is left behind.”

Adam Stachura, head of policy at Age Scotland said that while digital technology could help fight Covid-19, for “a significant number of older people who do not have access to the internet, the introduction of a mobile app to help track the spread of the infection will effectively exclude them from the process.”

He added: “Around 500,000 over 65s in Scotland are not internet users. They cannot apply online to book a coronavirus test or record their symptoms on a smart phone app. Older people are also the group most at risk of severe illness, so it is vitally important that they are at the heart of the test, trace and isolate policy.

“We should remember that for many older people, self-isolation and physical distancing means they do not have family on hand. If they are struggling with technology, they cannot get support.

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“Those on low income are also less likely to have access to internet enabled technology. With 150,000 pensioners in Scotland living in poverty it is hard for them to afford the technology, let alone the broadband or data connection to the internet.”

He said that phone numbers to register for a coronavirus test or an email address “if they are online but don’t have a smart phone” would be more useful to many elderly people. “After all, not all of these people without a digital device will be shielding and self-isolating. They will be in contact with people visiting shops or exercising, in the same way as someone in their 30s,” he added.

Meanwhile Mr Carlaw also warned that differing approaches to TTI across the UK could cause problems, especially for those in the south of Scotland, or as travel restrictions across the UK begin to be eased.

“It will be hugely confusing for people in the south of Scotland who work in the north of England to make use of something that’s not UK-wide,” he said.

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