NHS Test and Trace is designed to stop the spread of coronavirus and it’s working. Everyone with symptoms can be tested quickly and for free to find out if they have the virus.
Our contact tracers then get in touch with close contacts of those who test positive and advises them to self-isolate at home. By tackling the spread of the virus it will help us all get back to the things we love doing.
Already, millions of people have been tested and hundreds of thousands of people, who would otherwise be unwittingly spreading the virus, have been contacted. There is already capacity to do over 330,000 free tests every day, rising to 500,000 by the end of October.
Everyone getting a test at a test site can expect to receive their results the next day and within 48 hours if taking a test at home. Over 97% of people who were tested in person last week got their results back the next day.
The NHS Test and Trace system is also a partnership between national and local Public Health experts, NHS clinicians, specially-trained call handlers and local health protection teams.
NHS Test and Trace is a team effort that includes public health experts, NHS clinicians, specially-trained call handlers working together with local public health teams and local authorities. Both local and national teams working together to make the system a success.
If someone tests positive they will be contacted by text, email, or phoned and asked to provide information on who they have been in contact with and given advice to self-isolate. For complex cases - such as a school, hospital or care home or where someone has a large number of contacts, vulnerable people involved or someone is under 18 - a team of NHS clinicians conduct interviews to get further information to help close down outbreaks quickly. Anyone who has been in contact with someone who tests positive will be contacted in the same way and asked to self-isolate.
Last week, 79 per cent of positive cases were reached, and where contact details were provided, 83 per cent of their contacts were also reached. That’s on a par with the expectations from SAGE and other contact tracing systems around the world – most of which do not publish how many people they are reaching.
The NHS Test and Trace service will not tell someone’s contacts your name or details: this information is kept confidential. The service will simply tell your contacts that they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 and need to act. It is important that people share accurate records of who they have been in contact with to maximise our ability to contain the virus.
At the end of July, around 88 per cent of cases or contacts who responded said that they were either very satisfied or satisfied with the service they received.
NHS Test and Trace is working closely with local authorities. Every day local authorities get test, case and contact tracing data, with further data shared with local Directors of Public Health, to help control and manage outbreaks in their area. This includes sex, age, ethnicity, occupation, test type, test date, test location, linkage to care homes and postcode information for positive cases.
This means that thanks to NHS Test and Trace local teams can visit people on the ground - a vital part of the contact tracing process. Without this localised data being shared by NHS Test and Trace, it would have not been possible to take the targeted action we have seen in places like Blackburn or Leicester.
We are also rolling out more dedicated ring-fenced teams of contact tracers, who are trained health professionals, to work intensively with health protection teams on a local area and recruiting more people to work in local public health teams too.
Greg Fell, Director of Public Health in Sheffield said:
In Sheffield we’re working with NHS Test and Trace on a joint system and we’re improving it day-by-day. Locally we have excellent links between the directors of public health teams and NHS Test and Trace, particularly with Public Health England on managing complex cases and incidents. And on data, credit is due to the many people who have improved access to enable us with NHS Test and Trace to manage situations as they develop. This is enormous progress.
We know there are improvements that need to be made, especially to engage communities that are hard to reach, but we don’t want separate systems. We’re finding the sweet spot between a national system and local systems. A significant amount of work is done by the national system and locally we can then get to grips with the communities that we don’t find easy to reach.
That can probably only be resolved by boots on the ground locally, with locally known and trusted stakeholders pushing messaging out into communities. It’s not either or, it’s both. And what really matters is that people engage with that system and are getting tested even if they only have mild symptoms. It really, really, matters. This is a shared endeavour and we’re in this together.
Powers, funding and support
Local authorities have received £300 million additional funding to develop local outbreak control plans to ensure they were prepared for increases in cases of coronavirus.
This is backed up by new powers for them to close public events and local premises if they believe this is needed. We only want measures to be in place for as long as is necessary, but it is important that we take action when it’s required.
Where there are outbreaks we are also supporting local authorities with additional walk-through test sites, more home testing kits and mobile testing units, as well as dedicated contact tracers.
NHS Test and Trace relies on everyone with symptoms, however mild, getting tested if they have symptoms, providing detailed information on who they have come into contact with and then self-isolating to break the chain of transmission and stop the spread of the virus.
Anyone anyone feeling unwell can get a free test by booking into a testing site or ordering a home testing kit. Those unable to access the internet can call 119 (England and Wales) or 0300 303 2713 if you’re in Scotland.