In Depth

Test and trace: how the system is changing

Government replacing thousands of call-centre workers with ‘boots on the ground’ following flawed roll-out

Thousands of staff at “test-and-trace” call centres are to be axed and replaced with local tracking teams, the government has announced.

The “major overhaul” of the “failing” system will see “council staff knocking on doors” in a bid to reach more contacts of people who have tested positive for the Covid-19 coronavirus, The Telegraph reports.

Health minister Edward Argar told the BBC that the new approach would combine the “scalability”  of a national scheme with the expertise and local knowledge of local public health officials. 

“We’ve always said that this system would evolve, and what it’s doing here is exactly that: evolving and flexing,” he said.

What are the current issues with the test and trace system?

The NHS test-and-trace system relies on call centre-based contact tracers who attempt to reach people who have been in close contact with confirmed coronavirus carriers, usually by text, email or up to ten times by phone call.

However, reports surfaced in July that the £10bn scheme was failing to reach thousands of people, including many in areas with the highest infection rates in England. The Telegraph reports that on average, tracers in call centres are reaching just one case a month.

A number of issues have been blamed for these low success rates. Councils have warned that many so-called contacts are rejecting attempts to contact them because they assume the unfamiliar “0300” number is a cold caller.

Experts have also pointed to language barriers and missed emails as major stumbling blocks in many of the worst-affected towns, where “in some cases the virus is disproportionately affecting people of south Asian heritage”, The Guardian reports.

So what exactly is planned?

The overhaul of what Boris Johnson promised would be a “world-beating” test-and-trace system follows widespread criticism of the costly programme.

Around 6,000 of the current 18,000 call handlers will be axed in favour of a “boots on the ground” approach that will see council workers going to the homes of people who fail to respond to calls warning that they may have been exposed to the virus. 

The remaining contact tracers will work alongside the local public health teams.

Dido Harding, chair of NHS Test and Trace, said on Monday that the plan followed “successful trials in a small number of local areas”.

Recommended

Covid-19: everything you need to know about coronavirus
coronavirus.jpg
Coronavirus

Covid-19: everything you need to know about coronavirus

Indian Wells tennis cancelled - is Wimbledon in danger?
Novak Djokovic kisses the winner’s trophy after beating Roger Federer in the Wimbledon final
In Brief

Indian Wells tennis cancelled - is Wimbledon in danger?

Coronavirus impact on sport: ‘serious concerns’ for Olympics
Officials at the Japan Coast Guard base in Yokohama where a cruise ship is in quarantine following an outbreak of coronavirus
In Brief

Coronavirus impact on sport: ‘serious concerns’ for Olympics

‘Fixating on the R number isn’t real science’
Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty speaks during a news conference at 10 Downing Street.
Instant Opinion

‘Fixating on the R number isn’t real science’

Popular articles

Ten Things You Need to Know Today: 22 Jan 2021
10 Downing Street
Daily Briefing

Ten Things You Need to Know Today: 22 Jan 2021

Tried and tasted: restaurant meal kits to eat at home
Santo Remedio
On the menu

Tried and tasted: restaurant meal kits to eat at home

Churchill bust ‘not on display’ in Biden’s Oval Office
Joe Biden in the Oval Office
In Brief

Churchill bust ‘not on display’ in Biden’s Oval Office

Free 6 issue trial then continue to