‘NHS’ Test and Trace is getting worse. These are the latest record lows

Andrew Kersley

New figures released today show that far from being a “world-beating” service, Boris Johnson’s so-called ‘NHS’ test and trace system is hitting record lows – again. Labour’s Justin Madders has described the data as “absolutely staggering”.

With the shadow health minister concluding that “the system is falling apart” and that the “need for a circuit break is absolutely critical now”, as it will allow time to address the problems, LabourList has taken a look at what we can learn from the latest numbers.

Contact tracing has hit a record low.

The UK government’s test and trace system was only able to reach 59.6% of coronavirus “close contacts” in England between October 8th and 14th, which is the worst result since the service launched in May.

The 59.6% figure means that more than 40% of those who had been in contact with someone with Covid-19 were not reached by NHS Test and Trace and told to self-isolate at home for 14 days as required.

The figures are even lower than the figure released last week of 62.6% reached contacts, which was itself a record low. Experts have said 80% of close contacts must be reached if the contact tracing system is to be effective.

Private sector performance is going further downhill.

In line with the trend we have seen throughout the coronavirus pandemic in England, local public health teams have massively outperformed their privatised counterparts in the latest contact tracing outcomes.

For ‘complex’ cases handled by local teams, 94.8% of contacts were reached and asked to self-isolate in the week up to October 14th. For ‘non-complex’ cases, handled by private firms, the figure was 57.6%.

238,093 non-complex close contacts were identified, but only 137,102 were reached. As the government puts it, this “increased between the end of August and mid-September but has declined over the past three weeks”.

The gap in performance between public and private was almost half that size earlier on in the crisis, with local public health teams reportedly able to reach 80% of contacts compared to the 60% by private firms in late August.

Serco and Sitel, the two private firms hired to handle the national test and trace programme, will receive over £1bn for their work. Serco gains 40% of its overall income each year from contracts running UK public services.

Receiving a test result in 24 hours? You’d be lucky.

The Prime Minister promised a 24-hour turnaround for 100% of Covid test results by June. This has never been achieved, and the system is actually going in the opposite direction – achieving just 7.4% in the latest figures.

The proportion of in-person tests from local, mobile and regional testing sites received within 24 hours was just 15.1%. That figure is less than half of the 32.8% received within a day in the previous data released.

With all testing routes included, rather than just in-person tests, only 7.4% of tests were received within 24 hours earlier this month, compared to twice that figure in the previous week. Another record low for the system.

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