Test and Trace struggling to reach more than 60% of contacts, data shows

By Joe Gammie, PA
·5-min read

The NHS Test and Trace system is continuing to struggle to reach much more than 60% of the close contacts of people who test positive for the virus, new data shows.

Government figures published on Thursday show 60.4% of close contacts in England were reached through Test and Trace in the week ending November 4.

This is up very slightly from 60.2% in the previous week, and is also just above the all-time low of 60.1% for the week to October 14.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

But it is also the fourth week in a row the figure has been around 60%, having dropped from 77.2% during the week ending September 16.

For cases managed by local health protection teams, 99.1% of contacts were reached and asked to self-isolate in the week to November 4.

For those managed either online or by call centres, 59.0% of close contacts were reached and asked to self-isolate.

The data also shows 149,253 people tested positive for Covid-19 in England at least once in the week to November 4 – the highest weekly number since NHS Test and Trace was launched at the end of May and an increase of 8% in positive cases on the previous seven days.

A total of 37.6% of people who were tested for Covid-19 in England in the week ending November 4 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 26.4% 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.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

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”.

NHS Providers deputy chief executive Saffron Cordery said the new data shows there ias “clearly still room for improvement” on returning test results to people more quickly.

She added: “The number of people who tested positive for Covid this week has increased by 8%, with almost 150,000 cases across the country.

“Despite this, it is worrying to see fewer close contacts identified than the previous week, and with over 124,000 not reached this week it highlights how far the system has to go to be effective.

“It is heartening to see test turnaround times improving, but with only 19% of the 1.2 million Pillar 2 test results returned within 24 hours this week, there is clearly still room for improvement.

Daily confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the UK
(PA Graphics)

“We remain hopeful that the number of people testing positive for Covid will reduce as national lockdown continues, however are realistic that winter is going to be extremely challenging, particularly without a world-class testing and contact tracing system.”

Some 4.5% of people in England who used a home test kit for Covid-19 received their result within 24 hours in the week to November 4, up slightly from 3.5% in the previous week.

While 57.7% of people received the result of a home test within 48 hours, up from 36.5% in the previous week.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said the service had contacted a record 120,512 people who had tested positive for the virus and asked for details of recent close contacts in the week to November 4.

This was 85% of the total number of people transferred into the contact tracing system, up slightly from 84.1% the previous week and the highest proportion since the service launched.

Some 13.2% of people transferred to Test and Trace in the week to November 4 were not reached, while a further 1.9% did not provide any communication details.

The DHSC said there are 650 test sites operating across England, including almost 300 local walk-through testing sites, meaning the average distance to a test centre has nearly halved since September to a median distance of 2.7 miles.

Dido Harding
Baroness Dido Harding said the contact tracing system is ‘breaking chains of transmission to keep people safe’ (PA)

It said the Test and Trace service is working to expand capacity in test sites and laboratories, and added that the mass testing pilot in Liverpool and the announcement that local areas will have access to rapid testing shows the Government’s commitment to making it easier to get tested and reduce the time it takes to receive results.

Baroness Dido Harding, interim executive chair of the National Institute for Health Protection, said: “Alongside behavioural changes, like washing hands, wearing face coverings and following governmental guidelines on social distancing, NHS Test and Trace is a valuable tool to stop transmission and drive down the R rate.

“Despite increasing numbers of positive cases, NHS Test and Trace is reaching more people and doing so more quickly.

“Ultimately, this means we are finding the virus where it hides and breaking chains of transmission to keep people safe.”

The DHSC also said that from next week, under-18s in a household will not each have to be contact traced individually as long as the parent or guardian in the household confirms they have completed their legal duty to inform their child to self-isolate.

Downing Street said its efforts have been focused on improving test turnaround times.

“These are getting better,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said.

“Seven out of 10 people who were tested in person received their test result the next day, with a median time between 25 and 29 hours.

“We are using the increased capacity in our labs to help speed up times.”