Yvonne Fovargue MP: Contact tracing system is broken

We are at a crucial moment in the fight against Coronavirus.
Yvonne Fovargue MPYvonne Fovargue MP
Yvonne Fovargue MP

People’s lives and livelihoods are at stake and as we move towards the winter, we must ensure that we do not place an unbearable burden on our NHS.

A major tool in the battle to control the disease is an effective test and trace system.

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New analysis has revealed that the Government’s disastrous Test & Trace system has failed to trace almost 250,000 close contacts of people who tested positive for Covid-19 in England.

The analysis, verified by the House of Commons Library, reveals a deeply flawed contact tracing system unable to handle the increase in Covid-19 cases as the country enters a second wave.

It shows that last week alone, almost 80,000 close contacts of people who tested positive were not reached and notified.

A contact is defined as someone who has come into close contact with someone who tested positive for the virus. Reaching 80 per cent of close contacts is considered one of the key means of slowing transmission of Covid-19.

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Yet the analysis shows that the Government’s contact tracing is going backwards across England, with just over half of close contacts (57.7 per cent) reached last week.

For the first time since the weekly Test & Trace figures were published, the 80 per cent target was missed in every single local authority and English region.

In the North West, over 26,000 people were not contacted.

We are beyond the tipping point with the Test & Trace system. Without our local councils working day in day out to pick up the pieces, contact tracing would have all but collapsed.

Last month, the Prime Minister announced ‘Operation Moonshot’, promising a Test and Trace system which would “allow people to lead more normal lives, without the need for social distancing.”

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I am concerned that our current system of contact tracing for people with the coronavirus is broken and will only get worse while it remains outsourced to private companies such as Serco, the firm in charge of test and trace.

The system is clearly failing to reach people who come into contact with someone with the virus.

It is not getting information to local councils who need to act on it. And it is wasting hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money that could be spent on a local response using local expertise.

Local contact tracing systems have consistently performed well when compared with the centralised system established by the Government.

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Local health protection teams have reached 97 per cent of close contacts of those testing positive, while the latest weekly figures show the Government’s system reaching just 62.6 per cent. The Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies has said this key part of the system for keeping us safe is having “a marginal impact on transmission” of the virus.

Rather than spending billions of pounds on outsourcing contracts the Government should use the local expertise we have in local authorities all around the country.

There is a wealth of evidence that the money spent so far on the national tracing system would deliver better public health outcomes if devolved to local authorities and public health experts.

The failure of the Government’s contact tracing system means we are not getting the virus under control after months of sacrifice.

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The Government needs to sack Serco and ensure that councils and local public health teams receive the resources and powers they require to save lives and protect livelihoods before it is too late.

NOTE: Yvonne's column was submitted before Greater Manchester was placed into the Tier 3 category.