A new boss – the third in six months – has been appointed to lead the contact tracing app for England and Wales, Sky News has learned.
Gaby Appleton, a former director at Elsevier, one of the world’s biggest academic publishing companies, has already started work on the app and held an all staff meeting on Monday, Sky News understands.
She will take over from Simon Thompson, the former Apple executive who was appointed to run the programme in June, just before the first contact tracing app was ditched after it encountered technical problems. It is understood he will continue to advise on the project.
Mr Thompson was always expected to leave after a short period of time, Test and Trace sources say, but the move may raise questions about the rapid turnover of executives at the top of NHS Test and Trace, and the role played by consultancies in its operations.
One Test and Trace source expressed their frustration with “the endless recycling of people at the top, each entering with their own ideas and agenda, and departing after just a few months,” saying it was “counter-productive to building the relationships needed for a cohesive system”.
Last month it was reported that former Sainsbury’s boss Mike Coupe would take a key role overseeing testing at Test and Trace, but would only be in the role until Christmas.
‘Fat finger error’ gives contact-tracing app users wrong alert levels
Like other key members of the UK’s testing system, including Dido Harding, Ms Appleton spent time at McKinsey, where she helped clients “understand the economics of climate change”.
Earlier this month, Sky News revealed the scale of private sector consultants’ involvement in the Test and Trace system, with a single consultancy – Deloitte – employing over 1,000 staff to work on the programme. Documents revealed by Sky News showed that some consultants from Boston Consulting Group were being paid day rates of around £7,000.
McKinsey has also played a role in the development of the system, according to a contract from August, which showed that Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) had paid the firm £563,400 to decide the “vision, purpose and narrative” of NHS Test and Trace.
Despite several initial teething problems, including “false alarms” telling people they had been near someone with coronavirus, which wrongly persuaded at least one app users to self-isolate for several days, the contact tracing app has been widely downloaded.
A DHSC spokesperson said it had “a customer base of more than 18 million users across England and Wales”.
Asked about the appointment of Ms Appleton, the spokesperson added: “Within her new role, Gaby will ensure the app continues to grow both its customer base and utility for users so it can continue to play a key role in managing the spread of coronavirus by protecting individuals, families and their communities.”
In a statement, Ms Appleton said: “The NHS COVID-19 App is undoubtedly already a key tool in the fight against coronavirus and I am excited about the opportunities for development moving forward to ensure it goes from strength to strength and cements itself as a key everyday utility for people in England and Wales.”
Baroness Harding welcomed Ms Appleton’s appointment, saying she would make sure the app “continues to go from strength to strength”.