The Government did not spend £37 billion on the NHS Test and Trace app

6 April 2023
What was claimed

£37 billion was spent on the UK Covid contact-tracing app

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.

A post on Instagram with nearly 700 likes has wrongly claimed that £37 billion was spent on the NHS Covid-19 app.

Alongside an image of a Guardian headline from March 2023 stating the NHS contact-tracing app was being discontinued, the post claims: “£37billion! I repeat £37billion wasted of tax payers money on this BS [sic]!”

The actual cost of the app was about £35 million in its first year. That £37 billion figure refers to the budget for the whole test and trace programme in its first two years.

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. 

The £37 billion figure refers to the total budget allocated to NHS Test and Trace in its first two years.

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, not all of that money was used. According to the NAO, 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 yet published a report for 2021/22.

The post also claims that £532 million was spent on the Nightingale hospitals which “treated a total of 12 patients”.

In a written answer to a Parliamentary question in January 2021 then health minister Lord Bethell set out the forecast for total costs including set-up, running costs, stand-by costs, and costs of decommissioning across all seven Nightingale hospitals in England. He stated these would reach around £532 million over the 2020/21 and 2021/22 financial years.

This is the most up to date figure Full Fact could find on the cost of the hospitals, which were set up to help the NHS cope with surging numbers of Covid patients during the first wave. 

A report by the HuffPost in March 2021 said that Freedom of Information requests showed that Nightingale hospitals had treated 272 inpatients up until January 2021.

The report also said that some of the Nightingale hospitals had been used to treat other non-Covid patients or had supported the vaccine rollout.

Image courtesy of Annie Spratt

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