England’s Test and Trace system can’t get in touch with thousands of at-risk contacts

Monday, 15th June 2020, 2:39 pm
Updated Monday, 15th June 2020, 2:39 pm
The tracing system has been unable to contact 15 per cent (4,809 people) of the contacts given by those infected with the virus. (Credit: Shutterstock)

A third of people in England who tested positive for coronavirus at the end of May could not be contacted through the new NHS Test and Trace system.

The issue has arisen due to a third of those who are infected with the virus not providing contact details. Incorrect contact details and ignored calls are other factors also at play.

Addressing the possibility of non-compliance with the scheme, Health Secretary Matt Hancock appealed to the public, saying, "Please do it to protect your loved ones, do it to protect your community, do it to protect the nation and do it to protect the NHS."

What is the contact tracing system?

Contact tracing is a system built to control the spread of coronavirus by asking those who have tested positive for the virus to provide information about those they have been closer than two metres from.

The process starts with those showing symptoms getting a test.

Anyone who tests positive for the virus, will be connected by tracers by text, email or telephone.

Those who tested positive will be asked to log on to the NHS Test and Trace website to submit identification information and contact details of those they have been in close contact with.

These close contacts will then be contacted in the same manner and told to self isolate by remaining at home for 14 days - whether they have symptoms of the virus or not.

In April, Boris Johnson announced in parliament that 25,000 contact tracers would be employed and ready to track 10,000 new cases of the virus per day by 1 June.

However, many of those in the hiring process for the contact tracing scheme have since been told they are not yet required, due to a lack of positive tests to follow up on.

The system ‘will get better’

As well as missing a third of those who tested positive for the virus, the tracing system has been unable to contact 15 per cent (4,809 people) of the contacts given by those infected with the virus.

This is due to incorrect contact details, or simply such contacts being unavailable, or choosing not to respond to the texts, emails or calls from the contact tracers.

Another suggestion for the cause of these missed contacts is a possible lack of translation services.

Baroness Dido Harding, who leads NHS Test and Trace in England, said, "Only a small minority don't want to self isolate and we need to understand why this is and what we can do to support them to stay at home."

However, she added the system "can, needs to and will get better".

In an earlier statement the Baroness had announced that so far, there were "good numbers of compliance" with the system, with 26,985 people who have tested positive, identified, contacted and told to self-isolate.

How has the system been received?

Since it was first launched the tracing system has faced both criticism and praise, with many having shared their opinions about its effectiveness online.

One commenter on YouTube mentioned the possibility of the calls being confused as spam,

“Think this one through: a number you don't recognise calls you out of the blue - what do you do? Plenty of people will assume it's telemarketing and ignore it,” they wrote.

Another commenter highlighted that not everyone can be contact by email text or phone, writing, “If they are contacting you via a mobile or email, as was just stated, once again, it's going to hit the poor, the elderly and many disabled/chronically ill people, who just can't afford technology.”