The Government’s Test and Trace system has failed to reach nearly a quarter of a million close contacts of people who have tested positive for coronavirus, new analysis has found.
Private firms Serco and Sitel failed to get in touch with 245,481 contacts in England either online or from call centres over four months – missing nearly 40 per cent of contacts, the figures show.
SAGE has warned the system needs to call at least 80 per cent of all contacts and ensure they self-isolate, in order to stop the spread of infection.
Labour said the figures, released by the Department for Health, show test and trace is ‘on the verge of collapse’ and highlight the need for a short national lockdown to allow the Government to fix the system.
And just two days ago NHS Providers, which represents NHS Trusts across the country, blasted the system saying it was ‘deeply unfortunate’ that there was ‘still clearly a long way to go until our Test and Trace system is fit for purpose’.
An NHS track and trace staff member holds up COVID-19 testing kits at a test centre amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Bolton, Britain, September 17
The Government defended the system, saying Test and Trace is ‘breaking chains of transmission’ and had told 900,000 people to isolate.
Boris Johnson pledged in May that the system, which has cost £12billion, would be ‘world-beating’.
He also pledged to get all coronavirus test results out within 24 hours by the end of June, but this promise has not been met.
Experts say speed in turning around the kits is vital to ensuring those infected and their close contacts are reached quickly and asked to self-isolate.
A successful tracing programme has long been hailed as a way to ease lockdown measures.
Labour’s analysis of official figures released this week showed more than 26,000 people in the week up to October 7 were not contacted in north-west England, where the Liverpool region and Lancashire have been plunged into the severest restrictions.
A graph showing the proportion of close contacts who were advised by the NHS Track and Trace service to self-isolate within 24 hours in England
The Prime Minister has threatened to impose the Tier 3 measures on neighbouring Greater Manchester, even if local leaders do not consent because they are demanding greater financial support.
Shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves said: ‘We are at a decisive moment in our efforts to tackle coronavirus, and these figures are a new low for a test and trace system on the verge of collapse.
‘The Government is wasting hundreds of millions on a system that doesn’t seem to function or even use basic common sense.
‘The Prime Minister must act now to reverse this trend. That is why Labour is calling for a short, sharp circuit break to fix testing, protect the NHS and save lives.’
The average time taken for a contact to be identified and then told to self-isolate by Test and Trace has been falling since the week ending September 23. The testing system is being overwhelmed by a surge in positive cases
More coronavirus positive patients were transferred to Test and Trace than ever before (as shown by the graph), but the system failed to reach 20,000 Covid-19 cases in the first week of October
This shows the percentage of positive cases reached by local health teams by regions across England. There are drops in parts of the North West, which may reflect the system being overwhelmed by a surge in cases
This shows the percentage of contacts reached by online and call-centre contact tracers. The system failed to reach almost 81,000 contacts that were identified in the first week of October
The figures showed that the private firms did reach 372,458 contacts in the period of the data, May 28 to October 7.
‘Complex’ cases – which include outbreaks linked to hospitals, care homes, prisons or schools – are handled by local health protection teams, which statistics show have far higher rates of success.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: ‘We’re continuing to drive forward local contact tracing as part of our commitment to being locally led, with more than 100 Local Tracing Partnerships now operating, and more to come.’
He added that, when including local teams, 84% of contacts had been traced ‘where communication details were provided’.
This week Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called for Mr Johnson to implement a two to three-week national circuit-breaker lockdown so test and trace can be improved.
The Prime Minister on Friday continued to resist the move, which has been suggested by the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), but said he ‘can’t rule anything out’.
Sage has also said in recently published documents that the system was only having a ‘marginal impact’ on Covid-19 transmission.