A number of newly employed contact tracers have raised questions about the Government’s new programme for tracking coronavirus cases after reporting having nothing to do for days.
As many as 25,000 people have been brought in to help run the new test and trace scheme, which is seen as a key part of efforts to ease the country out of lockdown.
However, a nurse who signed up to work as a clinical contact caseworker on the project told the PA news agency she had carried out four shifts since last week’s launch without a single case to deal with.
“It’s incredibly frustrating. More frustrating is that the general public, people I speak to, think that because we’ve got this up and running, easing the lockdown is fine,” she said.
“In my experience as a nurse, as someone who is on the track and trace, easing is way too early. These systems are not in place.”
Speaking at the Government’s daily press conference, Mr Hancock admitted having “more capacity than we need” on the programme, which is said to have employed 25,000 contact tracers.
“I think to err on the side of having too many contact tracers is the right side to err on. I’d rather have too many people trained and ready to go,” he said.
Another contact tracer, who usually works as a dentist, told PA he too had not been given a single case, and believed the experience to be widespread among staff.
“I gather from being on a Facebook forum that I’m on that everyone seemed to be having the same (issue). It seems to be across the board at the moment.
“Once the cases are being uploaded I think it will be fine, and I think it will be absolutely essential, because without it I don’t see how we’re going to manage the whole situation.
“But at the moment, I have no idea why, it seems that now the system is live and we are testing people, I don’t understand why there’s a disconnect between the testing and actually getting it into the system.
“It is a worry that we’re now easing the lockdown but we haven’t got this in place yet.”
Mr Hancock insisted the “vast majority” of new infections and their contacts had been traced since the system launched.
“Many of them are able to put their details in on a web-based portal rather than directly on the phone,” he said.
Testing chief Professor John Newton said not all new cases need to go into the contact tracing process, adding: “If it’s a case in a care home of somebody who is already part of a known outbreak, or if the case is already known to the public health service, then they don’t need to be contact traced.
“In lockdown, of course, people do not have that many close contacts outside their household.”
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “A successful functioning test, trace and isolate regime is vital for safe easing of lockdown.
“But the Health Secretary failed yet again to reveal the numbers of people actually tested nor could he tell us how many contacts have been traced so far despite boasting that the test and trace system was now ‘up and running’ and ‘successful’.
“We urge the Health Secretary to reveal this data in his Commons statement on Tuesday. Transparency is crucial to building public confidence.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “The new NHS Test and Trace service is up and running and will help save lives. These claims do not reflect the huge amount of work already underway.”
The Government’s moves to ease lockdown restrictions took a further step in England on Monday with primary schools reopening partially to pupils and markets being allowed to operate with social distancing.
Groups of up to six people are also allowed to meet outside for the first time since restrictions were introduced.
Senior health figures have said the Government is easing lockdown restrictions too quickly, with the Association of Directors of Public Health arguing the new rules are “not supported by the science”.