NHS Covid tracing app did not cost £37bn

31 May 2023
What was claimed

The NHS Test and Trace app cost £37 billion.

Our verdict

The NHS Covid-19 app cost £35 million in the 2020/21 financial year. The £37 billion figure was the budget of the entire Test and Trace programme in its first two years.

As the NHS Covid-19 app prepared to close at the end of April, a number of posts on Facebook claimed that £37 billion had been spent on it.

One post on 27 April said: “NHS Covid app finally scrapped, £37 billion and it didn’t even work.”

Another on 6 May said: ”Can anyone explain how it cost 37 BILLION ! to develop “an app”….. for track and trace.” [sic]

But the £37 billion figure actually refers to the budget for the whole test and trace programme in its first two years. The cost of the app was about £35 million in 2020-21. 

Inaccurate claims about the Government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic have spread widely on social media, and can damage trust in politics.

The £37 billion figure has been misused frequently on social media, as we’ve written several times previously. A Labour MP also made the claim in November 2022, and corrected himself after being contacted by Full Fact. 

Honesty in public debate matters

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Where does £37 billion come from?

The £37 billion figure refers to the total budget allocated to NHS Test and Trace in its first two years, not just the app.

A National Audit Office (NAO) interim report in December 2020 said that the Government allocated £22 billion to the test, trace, contain and enable programme in 2020/21, with a further £15 billion for 2021/22.

However, according to NAO figures, not all the money was used. As of June 2022, approximately £25.7 billion had actually been spent on the entire Test and Trace programme, with an estimated lifetime cost of £29.3 billion.

The NAO said that of the approximately £13.5 billion spent on the NHS Test and Trace programme in 2020/21, £35 million was spent on the app.  

The vast majority of the spending in that year was accounted for by testing (£10.4 billion).

The NAO has not published a report for 2021/22.

Image courtesy of John Cameron.

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