Artist illustration of contact tracing

NHS Confederation: We are not seeing major progress on test and trace

As we continue through this second national lockdown, with one of the goals being the rapid development of the UK test and trace system, NHS Confederation have raised concerns that improvements to date have been modest.

NHS Confederation Director Dr Layla McCay, responding to the latest test and trace figures, said: “These figures provide very clear evidence that that the COVID-19 crisis persists, with positive cases still rising, up another 8% since last week, requiring even more people to be referred to the contact tracing system.

“Interestingly, these people had fewer close contacts compared to previous weeks, demonstrating that our lockdown efforts are having an effect.

“Despite that, yet again, a concerning number of close contacts submitted to the test and trace system were not successfully reached and asked to self-isolate.

“There have some modest improvements, for example, in reduced turnaround times for in-person test results, but we are not seeing the rapid or significant progress that will be needed to make the test and trace system the ‘world beating’ programme we were promised.

“It is vital that the time remaining in this new lockdown period is used to make this progress, as we wait for the wider rollout of a vaccine. We are about to enter the second week of the lockdown, which means there are only three weeks left, and our members have told us they have major concerns about capacity as winter looms. The clock is very much ticking.

“A key issue will be how mass testing, such as the city-wide Liverpool pilot and the newly announced roll-out across additional areas, factors into this, and we hope the data will be made public so that learnings can be taken forward and applied elsewhere.

“In the meantime, we urge the public to continue to adhere to guidance, and the Government to continue to follow the science and to do what is in the best interests of the public and the NHS.”

An effective contact tracing system has proven essential in many of the countries which have successfully overcome Covid-19 outbreaks, particularly in East Asia, where many are either without cases, or in very minimal numbers, for several weeks now.

With the human and economic impacts of the virus being increasingly felt the longer high infection rates go on, it is crucial the NHS and wider UK have access to an arsenal of effective tools to combat the pandemic.

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