Thursday, 24 Sep 2020

Thousands refusing to self-isolate or can't be reached under track and trace

The head of the NHS Test and Trace programme admitted it was not yet ‘gold standard’ after figures showed a third of people who tested positive for coronavirus could not be reached.

Over 8,000 people who tested positive for Covid-19 in England had their case transferred to the NHS tracking system in recent weeks.  But when contact tracers tried getting in touch, 2,710 (33%) did not answer their phones or emails or failed to provide correct information about who they had been in contact with.

Of the 67% of people who could be reached, more than 30,000 contacts – known as ‘at risk people’ – were identified. However, tracers only managed to touch base with 85% of these to advise them to self-isolate.

The remaining 15% (over 4,800 people) could either not be reached, said they were already taking action independently of the system or simply refused to comply.

Head of the programme, Baroness Harding, admitted improvements were needed but insisted the system was ‘fit for purpose’.

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She said that the ‘vast majority’ of people wanted to play their part in the Test and Trace system but she was unable to say how many people contacted and told to self-isolate had refused to comply with the request ‘as it is not a mandatory process’.

 She said: ‘I am a really firm believer in the good spirit and civic behaviour of the public and we have seen the public be extremely responsive and supportive.

‘These are very good numbers for compliance and we want to encourage people to be part of the system rather than have them be fearful about what might happen to them as they go through it.’

The figures showed that of those people who were reached and asked to provide information about their contacts, just over three-quarters (79%) were contacted within 24 hours of their case being transferred to the Test and Trace system.

Lady Harding said the system had been ‘stood up in extraordinary time’ and would get better through the summer. She conceded it was ‘not completely perfect’ and there was ‘stuff that we all need to do better’.

‘We are not at the gold standard yet that we want to be, of isolating all contacts within 48 hours of someone requesting a test’, Lady Harding said.

‘But you can absolutely see the path of how we are going to get there.’

The figures, from the Department of Health and Social Care, cover the period from May 28 – when the system was launched – to June 3.

Test and Trace is meant to form a ‘central part’ of the government’s strategy of lifting the lockdown, by containing and controlling the virus and limiting its spread.

It should ensure that anyone with symptoms will be tested and their close contacts traced and told to self-isolate to stop them unwittingly spreading the virus.

A key part of the system is launching an NHS contract tracing app, designed to let people know if they have been in close contact with someone who later reports positive for Covid-19.

Lady Harding was unable to give a date for the launch of the app, which earlier reports have suggested may not be up and running to full efficiency until September.

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