Test and Trace fails to reach 4 in 10 contacts of Covid patients in worst week

Test and Trace fails to reach 4 in 10 contacts of Covid patients in worst week
The struggling Test and Trace scheme hit a new low as new figures show it failed to reach four out of 10 contacts of people infected with coronavirus.

Official reveals the numbers of people asked to self isolate after coming into contact with a positive case fell to just 59.9% between October 22-28.

This is down from 60.6% the previous week and the lowest weekly figure since the programme was launched in May.

It means that some 40% of people were not told to stay at home by contact tracers, despite possibly being infected by the virus.

The worrying statistics come as England entered a new national lockdown on Thursday, with people ordered to stay at home for four weeks to try to curb spiralling infection rates.

a man standing next to a car: Around 4 in 10 people who came into contact with positive cases were not told to self isolate

© Getty Around 4 in 10 people who came into contact with positive cases were not told to self isolate

Boris Johnson admitted that the under-fire scheme needed to improve this week, with hopes the new lockdown could buy it valuable time.

Test and Trace data shows 137,180 people tested positive for Covid-19 in England in the week to October 28 – the highest weekly number since the scheme launched.

It also marks an increase of 8% in positive tests on the previous week,

327,203 people were identified as coming into close contact with someone who had tested positive with the virus, with 59.9% reached.

Local health protection teams managed to reach 97.9% of contacts but cases managed by call centres only reached 58.5% of close contacts, the figures show.

Dr Layla McCay, director at the NHS Confederation, which represents organisations across the healthcare sector, said: “If England’s second lockdown is successful it should ease the pressure on test and trace, giving it breathing space.

“But the test and trace system must take this opportunity and step up now because the latest figures show just how much work it still has to do.

“Positive cases are continuing to rise but only 59.9 per cent of their identified contacts were reached and asked to self-isolate last week, well below the 80 per cent that scientists tell us is needed to make the system effective.”

Shadow Health Minister Justin Madders said: “Ministers know that we won’t get on top of the virus unless we see a better performing system. Despite the flurry of government announcements on testing this week we haven’t heard a single proposal on how they are going to fix contact tracing.

“It is absolutely vital they use this time in the second lockdown to finally fix test and trace.”

Test and Trace boss Baroness Dido Harding defended the scheme, saying it was processing more tests and helping to break chains of transmission by reaching more people.

“We know that there are areas where we still need to improve and we are working tirelessly to make the service quicker and more effective every day,” she said.

“NHS Test and Trace is a crucial weapon against this virus, but it is not a silver bullet. I urge everyone to follow new restrictions and book a test if you have symptoms to help protect each other during this time.”

The Prime Minister’s spokesman insisted Mr Johnson had confidence in Baroness Harding, despite the scheme’s performance.

The spokesman said: “You heard the PM talk about this yesterday. He said he was perfectly willing to accept where there were failings in relation to NHS Test and Trace.

Dido Harding wearing a suit and tie smiling at the camera: Test and Trace boss Dido Harding has fced criticism over the scheme

© REUTERS Test and Trace boss Dido Harding has fced criticism over the scheme

“You can see some progress in the figures this week – the number of in-person tests that were received the next day increased to 61.8% compared with 46.5% in the previous week.

“But there is much more improvement that is needed and I think there is a lot of work going on to continue to improve the Test and Trace network.”

Ahead of the publication of the figures, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said lockdown will be used to “redouble our efforts” to expand the programme.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, he said it is also vital to increase the speed at which test results are returned.

“Lots of people are receiving them the next day which is good, but there are still too many people who are having to wait for days and we are going to continue to work to speed that up,” he said.

“We’ve got to use this time not only to deal with Test and Trace but also to prepare for when we get a vaccine.”

He said any future vaccination programme would prioritise those in greatest need “so we can avoid a stop and start scenario where we’re having to go in and out of lockdowns”.

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