News | Published May 21 2020

NHS figureheads warn that UK contact tracing system must be finalised quickly

The NHS Confederation has warned that there will be “severe” consequences if a Covid-19 contact tracing system is not implemented quickly.

The confederation added that the UK lockdown should not be eased without a contact tracing strategy in force.

Contact tracing for coronavirus was put in place when the UK confirmed its first two cases back in January, but it was ceased in mid-March when chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty deemed it “no longer necessary” to “identify every case”.

Speaking during Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer criticised the decision to end contact tracing, to which prime minister Boris Johnson said that a revamped contact tracing system will be ready in England by June 1, armed with 25,000 contact tracers, capable of tracking 10,000 new cases a day.

The NHS Confederation chief executive Niall Dickson welcomed Johnson’s promise, but wrote to health secretary Matt Hancock to stress that a second coronavirus peak was likely if the contact tracing strategy was not clear.

Dickson said: "We are 10 weeks into the pandemic and developing a strategy with a well worked through local base should have been in place much sooner.

"If we do not rapidly instigate the right system, involving the right people, then the ramifications for the NHS, including its staff and its patients, could be severe."

Chris Hopson, the chief executive of NHS Providers, told the BBC that the members of his organisation have "not had clear information and instructions about what their role will be" when the new track and trace system is launched.

Security minister James Brokenshire reassured that Hopson’s comments will be heeded, adding that the tracing system will be ready by June 1 regardless of whether an NHS tracing app which has been trialled on the Isle of Wight is ready.

In the other constituent countries of the UK, Scotland is currently trialling its own contact tracing system while Northern Ireland has a telephone-based one in place. The Welsh government is looking to have an operational system ready by the end of May.

The latest official number of total UK deaths linked to Covid-19 is 35,704.

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Authored by

Alexander Bridge-Wilkinson
Junior Editor
May 21 2020

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