Surge in demand for NHS smartphone app after cyber-attack

A smartphone app designed to help North East parents with common childhood illnesses has seen a surge in demand – as a result of the recent cyber-attack on the NHS.

The NHS Child Health app was launched near the end of last year by the North East and North Cumbria Urgent Emergency Care Network to help parents recognise when their child needs treatment – and to reduce demand on under-pressure emergency services.

Free to download from Google Play and the App Store, it had already been downloaded over 10,000 times, as well as being shortlisted for national awards by the Patient Experience Network and the Association for Healthcare Communications and Marketing.

But last month’s cyber-attack, which affected the NHS and other major organisations worldwide, saw over 1,000 new users download the app in just a couple of days.

With many NHS services unable to access their IT systems, clinicians called on the public to help ease the pressure by staying away from A&E or GP practices unless it was a serious or emergency situation.

Dr Stewart Findlay, Chair of the North East Urgent and Emergency Care Network, said:

“It’s often the case that there is a better option for your healthcare needs than simply going to your GP or to A&E, and the NHS Child Health app is a great example of that.

“As a parent it’s natural to worry about getting it right. We would always want people to get medical advice about a serious concern or a medical emergency, but the app can give people that little bit of extra confidence about making the right choice with those common childhood illnesses.

“Over the past few weeks the NHS faced immense pressure, so it was fantastic to see thousands of families giving us a helping hand – both by using services wisely and by downloading the app for next time their family needs it.”

Children account for a high proportion of A&E attendances, but more than half of under-fives are discharged with no treatment.

Jessica Bowen, a mum from Newcastle, said:

“I think we’re pretty lucky that we have this kind of information. In past generations people didn’t necessarily have such involvement from the health system – they relied on family. Nowadays we don’t always have the time to spend with family, and relatives might live in different places, so this kind of information is a real help.

“As a new mum, I think it’s aimed just right for me. It is clearly signposted, so you know how to find information easily, and I really like the advice from doctors and health visitors.”

The app was initially developed in Sunderland, with rigorous testing by clinicians and families helping to frame the advice in the best way. In addition to providing practical information, the app geo-targets NHS services to the user so that when they need medical advice, they can easily find the nearest service.