Experts say Test and Trace is a ‘big failure’ - where did it go wrong?

Monday, 11th January 2021, 1:04 pm
Updated Monday, 11th January 2021, 1:04 pm

The Government’s £22 billion Test and Trace programme is failing to help keep the pandemic under control by halting surges of coronavirus, and is in need of an overhaul, according to experts, reports the Guardian.

A healthcare worker with 40 years worth of specialist experience in the area of environmental health and communicable diseases has expressed concerns over the use of unqualified call handlers in the programme.

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The goal of the Test and Trace program is for at least 80 per cent of an infected person’s contacts to be instructed to self-isolate within two to three days, according to the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE).

However, the most recent data shows that only around 84.9 per cent of infected people were reached at all, and the number of infected people reached within 24 hours was 73 per cent.

Why is the programme struggling?

Pressure is beginning to show on the system, which has attracted criticism since its launch, as the number of infections rises considerably.

The Test and Trace programme must now trace a significantly higher number of contacts than at any point prior during the pandemic, with three times more contacts of infected people and twice as many close contacts as a month ago.

Many healthcare workers have criticised the use of minimum wage telesales staff (provided by Serco through government outsourcing contracts) to carry out work which should be done by trained healthcare professionals.

While these workers were initially only carrying out relatively simple tasks as part of the programme - such as telling people who are known to be infected that they must self-isolate - there are concerns that they are now often carrying out more difficult tasks which are typically carried out by qualified staff.

The Government has been urged to provide greater support to those who are told to self-isolate, as research shows that people who earn less than £20,000 per year are three times less likely to be able to self-isolate.

‘Big failure’

A spokesperson for the Department for Health and Social Care said: “NHS Test and Trace - the biggest testing system in Europe - is doing everything possible to break chains of transmission and, to date, the service has told over 5.1 million people to self-isolate, including those testing positive and their close contacts.”

Susan Michie, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behavioural Science (a SAGE subcommittee), said the system has been “one of the big failures of this government over 2020”, and called for healthcare professionals to lead the system from a local level.

She commented: “This needs to be done by people who are not only skilled but trusted in the communities - it needs to be done locally.”