Four in 10 close contacts of people who tested positive for Covid-19 in England are still not being reached by the NHS Test and Trace system, at the same time as it recorded the highest ever weekly number of positive cases.
A total of 126,065 people tested positive for Covid-19 at least once in the week to October 21 – an increase of 23% in positive cases on the previous week and the highest weekly number since Test and Trace began at the end of May.
Some 60.3% of close contacts of people who tested positive were reached through the system in the week ending October 21 – up very slightly from 60.0% in the previous week, which was the lowest weekly percentage ever recorded.
For cases managed by local health protection teams, 97.0% of contacts were reached and asked to self-isolate in the week to October 21.
But for cases handled either online or by call centres, this figure was 58.1%.
Just 22.6% of people who were tested for Covid-19 in England in the week ending October 21 at a regional site, local site or mobile testing unit – a so-called “in-person” test – received their result within 24 hours.
This is up from 13.7% in the previous week.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson had pledged that, by the end of June, the results of all in-person tests would be back within 24 hours.
He told the House of Commons on June 3 that he would get “all tests turned around within 24 hours by the end of June, except for difficulties with postal tests or insuperable problems like that”.
Only 3.5% of people in England who used a home test kit for Covid-19 received their result within 24 hours in the week to October 21 – up slightly from 2.8% in the previous week.
Some 24.9% of people received the result of a home test within 48 hours, up from 14.1% in the previous week.
Of the 120,442 people transferred to the Test and Trace system in the week to October 21, 80.5% were reached and asked to provide details of recent close contacts.
This is down slightly on 81.7% in the previous week.
Some 17.6% of people transferred to Test and Trace in the week to October 21 were not reached while a further 1.9% did not provide any communication details.
Mr Johnson admitted last week that the system needs to improve, adding that he shares people’s “frustrations” and said there needed to be faster turnaround times.
Interim executive chair of the National Institute for Health Protection, Baroness Dido Harding, said: “As the number of cases rise, we are seeing NHS Test and Trace processing more tests and reaching more people than ever before.
“We are expanding the reach of our service and improving performance in key areas such as turnaround times for tests as we continue to increase capacity, but we recognise there is more to be done.
“We are working hard to meet these increased demands whilst improving the service we offer to the public.”
Director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, Miriam Deakin, said the figures provide confirmation of “rapidly rising infections”.
She said: “As other countries are also now finding, it is difficult for a test and trace system to keep up and operate effectively now that the number of cases has risen so significantly.
“We should acknowledge the number of people tested has risen, turnaround times are slightly better, and more people are being transferred to the contact tracing system.
“But far too few contacts of those carrying the virus are ever reached which has hampered the system’s effectiveness from the outset.
“And as infections rise the challenges become even greater.
“That’s why we need our politicians to be ready to make tough and speedy decisions to bear down on the virus, and ensure the NHS is able to maintain the quality of care for all patients, caring for those with Covid and other conditions.”