British COVID-19 test-and-trace system will not be fully operational until September, despite it launching last month

pharmafile | June 5, 2020 | News story | Medical Communications COVID-19, NHS, coronavirus 

The NHS COVID-19 test-and-trace system will not be fully operational until September or October, leaked emails from personnel involved with its development show.

One leak comes from the Chief Executive of Serco, Rupert Soames, one of the main companies contracted to develop the project, and an email shows he has doubts that the scheme would evolve smoothly.

The system is designed to track those who have contracted the virus and map out anyone they have come into contact with, before asking them to self-isolate. It began its roll-out in England last week, with the help of 25,000 contact tracers.

Serco has recruited 10,000 of the contact tracers after being awarded an initial contract of £45.8m, which could rise to £90m.

The indicator that it won’t be available for at least another 3 months came in a webinar for NHS staff, when Tony Prestedge, the Chief Operating Officer of the contact tracing scheme, said: “I am sure when Dido Harding announces this service later she will make clear that it is an imperfect service at launch that we will improve over time and make it world-class by the time that we are moving towards the September or October time.”

This video was recorded on 27 May, just before the government announced the launch of the scheme, which has already experience problems.

Leaks to The Guardian have also raised various concerns, with a NHS 1 June email telling staff there would be prolonged periods of waiting for cases as the data volume were full, while a 2 June email from someone on the team said that there was significant testing issues.

One anonymous worker on the scheme right now was scathing in his criticism, telling The Guardian: “The communication and training have been terrible from the start and I’m yet to know anybody who has made a call to a member of the public.

“We have been paid to do nought and been dossing all day every day on government money. I have personally been sat in my garden sunbathing, drinking and chilling with my pals for two and a half weeks now, occasionally coming inside to stop my computer going to sleep and check my emails. Normally I would be happy about this but when the countries public health is at risk. It is a tragedy.”

These leaks are in direct contrast with what the Prime Minister has been saying, telling the press on Wednesday: “The NHS Test and Trace started operating a week ago, and already thousands of people are isolating who wouldn’t have been doing so before this service was introduced. They are thereby protecting others and reducing the spread of the virus.”

Currently, Britain has the second worst death count in the world from the pandemic at 39,904, although this is expected to be much higher.

Conor Kavanagh

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