Several contact tracers told The Independent that they could not access the website when it launched on Thursday morning, with staff left unable to work.
The new NHS test and trace system is being rolled out across England with the help of 25,000 contact tracers, with people who come into close contact with a coronavirus sufferer told to self-isolate for 14 days.
If they test positive, NHS contact tracers or local public health teams will get in touch asking them to share details of the people they have been in close contact with and places they have visited.
But the launch of the programme was plunged into chaos when some contact tracers were unable to log onto their systems. Screenshots shared by staff show that a “critical incident” had been reported within the system.
One contact tracer, a senior NHS nurse, told The Independent they were booked to work from 8am to noon on Thursday but by 11.30am had still been unable to log in and neither had 14 of their colleagues they were speaking to.
“As nurses, we are quite angry at the time that has been wasted.”
The nurse, who shared screenshots of the staff log-in page failing to load, added: “Over the last few days they have run practice shifts in four-hour blocks using actors and at least half the time the system has crashed. I have done two of those and on both occasions the system crashed.
“The message from PHE [Public Health England] has been if you can’t log in just do some clinical updates and revision, but you will still get paid.”
The nurse, who asked not to be named, said this was “not an insignificant amount of money” with hourly rates for senior nurses of up to £17 for a weekday, £25 on a Saturday and £28 on a Sunday.
They added: “This system should have been up and running weeks ago and my personal opinion is that we’re past the point of it making a difference now.”
Another nurse tracer said they had been booked to work from 10am to 2pm but had been unable to log in at all. She said the problems today followed previous booked shifts where staff were not actually working and were told instead to do clinical updates and revisit training.
“It is just a holy mess, it’s very frustrating. There will be people who could’ve been released to work on the front line in hospitals to support their colleagues if they knew the system wasn’t going to be fully set up.”
She said there had been no communication about the issues or how long the system would be down.
“As a professional there is a part of me that is saying, ‘why have I been wasting my time?’”
Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, said the introduction of the test and trace programme was welcome but warned “there is a lot of catching up to do”.
“Testing in many places is still too slow. For many health and care providers the turnaround time is three to seven days,” she said.
“Rather than pretending we are about to see a world class test and trace service the government should acknowledge that this will take time. It should not repeat the mistake of overpromising and underdelivering.”
Labour’s Ben Bradshaw and Lib Dem MP Daisy Cooper both said that Dido Harding had told them in a private conference call that the system wouldn’t be “fully operational” until the final days of June, four weeks after lockdown restrictions will have been eased further.
Asked about the problems with the website, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “The system has not crashed. Anyone in the country can log on and book a test if they have symptoms and we have tracers logged on to do their vital work to help stop the spread of coronavirus and save lives.
“As with all large-scale operations of this kind, some staff did initially encounter issues logging on to their systems and these are rapidly being resolved.”
Public Health England has also been contact for comment.