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Test and Trace staff have made FOUR calls since May

Thousands of call handlers hired for the NHS Test and Trace scheme are set to be sacked as the beleaguered scheme is ‘reconfigured’ because staff simply ‘do not have enough to do’, it emerged today.  

Britons who fail to answer calls from the NHS Test and Trace service may now face a knock on the door after staff only reached half of at-risk people on the phone. 

In a dramatic bid to improve the scheme, the Government’s army of call centre contract tracers will be slashed by a third – from 18,000 to 12,000 – with much greater use made of local public health teams. 

Council employees in at-risk areas could end up knocking on the doors of people who have been exposed to the virus but who don’t answer the phone calls or emails of Test and Trace. 

The national operation is still failing to find half of close contacts of infected people, well below the 80 per cent minimum threshold needed to keep a lid on local outbreaks.  

Under the plans, local authorities will be called upon if the NHS tracers can’t reach people within 48 hours. 

They will use their knowledge of local areas to find people, and their community ties to engage with harder-to-reach people in deprived areas and those who do not speak English.   

Experts have told MailOnline that language barriers and trust issues are the main factors behind the low success rates of the NHS system in many of England’s worst-affected areas.  

It’s thought that 94 local authorities have already expressed interest to Public Health England about deploying their own tracers.

Contact tracers working for the national system, based in call centres around the country and on £17-an-hour contracts, have hit headlines repeatedly for not having enough work to do, with some saying they were being paid to sit around watching Netflix.  

Nearly 100 local councils are considering setting up their own contact tracing teams. Under the plans, councils would support NHS Test and Trace by sending tracers to chap on doors of people who refuse to answer the phone to, or reply to emails from, the national team (file)

Leicester, Blackburn and Luton – which have some of the highest infection rates in the country – set up their own local teams earlier this month to help curb their outbreaks. 

It comes only a week after a major Lancet study suggested the test-and-trace service was not operating effectively enough to prevent a second coronavirus wave when schools reopen next month.

Last night, Department of Health officials insisted the changes were part of a ‘planned next step’ and nothing to do with the Lancet study or the growing criticism of the programme.

But the changes are likely to be seen as a tacit admission that the system – which ministers had claimed would be ‘world-beating’ – was not working well enough ahead of a feared second wave.

Under the new plan, call-handlers who have been unable to get in touch with a ‘close contact’ – someone who has spent at least 15 minutes in the proximity of a patient with the virus – will be told to pass their details on to local health teams.

These teams will then decide whether to visit the contacts directly at home to tell them to self-isolate for 14 days.

The task of door-knocking all contacts who haven’t answered their phones will be time consuming, so the squads are likely to focus on those living in areas of concern, where infection rates are rising.

The plans to establish local teams were unveiled by the Department of Health today.  Announcing the move, Dido Harding, executive chair of NHS Test and Trace, said: ‘We have always been clear that NHS Test and Trace must be local by default and that we do not operate alone – we work with and through partners across the country. 

‘As we learn more about the spread of the disease, we are able to move to our planned next step and become even more effective in tackling the virus.

‘After successful trials in a small number of local areas, I am very pleased to announce that we are now offering this integrated localised approach to all local authorities to ensure we can reach more people in their communities and stop the spread of Covid-19.’

Reopening schools in September WILL lead to a catastrophic second wave of coronavirus unless NHS test and trace drastically improves, major study claims 

Children returning to school in September will trigger a devastating second wave of Covid-19 that could infect twice as many as the first unless the test and trace system drastically improves, a major study has claimed.

Scientists said reopening schools in the UK would inevitably result in another crisis that peaks in December.

But it could be avoided — with pubs remaining open and no draconian lockdowns needed — if testing is dramatically ramped up and the contact tracing system becomes better.

Three quarters of people with Covid-19 would need to be tested and self-isolate to prevent a second wave caused by schools reopening. 

Experts found that, to prevent a second wave when schools reopen, the NHS contact tracing system must reach 68 per cent of cases and their contacts.

But the current NHS system is ‘not good enough’. It reaches half of contacts and only a fraction of symptomatic cases are tested, according to researchers from University College London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. 

Local public health officials had been crying out for months to be given the power to do their own contact tracing. 

Gerry Taylor, Luton borough council’s director of public health, said last month she was ‘very concerned’ at the low rate in her town and blamed the centralised system for being too far removed from communities. 

Luton has since become one of the first areas to have its own local, dedicated tracing team.

Blackburn with Darwen Council also launched its own track and trace scheme to combat a rise in infections in the area.

Its public health chief, Professor Dominic Harrison, said the national system was ‘simply not tracing enough cases and contacts fast enough’.

Reacting to today’s news, James Jamieson, chairman of the cross-party Local Government Association, said: ‘This announcement is good news for everyone. 

‘A strong national and local partnership is critical for test and trace to work as effectively as possible and it is right that local resources are kept under constant review to ensure everyone involved is able to help stop the virus spreading further.

‘Using councils’ unrivalled local knowledge and vast experience of contact tracing within local public health teams is vital in the Government’s national efforts.’ 

It comes after a study by University College London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine last week found reopening schools will cause a devastating second wave if the test and trace system drastically improves.

Scientists said reopening schools in the UK would inevitably result in another crisis that peaks in December.

But it could be avoided — with pubs remaining open and no draconian lockdowns needed — if testing is dramatically ramped up and the contact tracing system becomes better.

Three quarters of people with Covid-19 would need to be tested and self-isolate to prevent a second wave caused by schools reopening. 

Experts found that, to prevent a second wave when schools reopen, the NHS contact tracing system must reach 68 per cent of cases and their contacts.

But the current NHS system is ‘not good enough’. It reaches half of contacts and only a fraction of symptomatic cases are tested, according to the researchers. 

Three quarters of people with Covid-19 would need to be tested and self-isolate to prevent a second wave caused by schools reopening. 

Labour today wrote to Heath Secretary Matt Hancock demanding urgent reform of the system ahead of schools going back next month.

The party wrote: ‘The stakes are too high to tolerate failure in either the operation or the design of this crucial public service.

‘We cannot afford for the test and trace system to continue as it is without rapid reform. It is not too late to improve the system and put in place new, locally-led contact tracing measures.’

A major study by University College London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found a second wave could only be prevented when schools go back if 68 per cent of close contacts of Covid-19 patients are tracked down and isolated

A major study by University College London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found a second wave could only be prevented when schools go back if 68 per cent of close contacts of Covid-19 patients are tracked down and isolated

Opposition health spokesman Justin Madders added: ‘Labour has been calling for a locally-led contact tracing system for months – it’s welcome that local authorities are now finally being given additional support to tackle the virus in their areas.

‘But it’s clear Boris Johnson’s £10 billion centralised contact tracing system is nowhere near ‘world-beating’ as he claims and the system is unable to fight local outbreaks successfully.’

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson told teachers today they have a ‘moral duty’ to help schools reopen next month as he faced a standoff with unions.

The PM warned it is ‘not right’ that pupils should spend more time out of the classroom, reiterating his determination for a full return when term begins.

While he was careful to praise the work done by teachers and unions to make schools ‘safe’ in time for the move, he added: ‘It is our moral duty as a country to make sure that happens.’

The intervention – on a visit to a school in Upminster – came as unions were accused of a bid to sabotage the government’s plans with a 200-item list of safety demands.

The National Education Union has provided its half a million members with a ‘checklist’ of Covid-secure measures, saying they should ‘escalate’ complaints if they are not being followed. There have also been calls for pupils to be taught on a week on, week off rota.

But Professor Russell Viner, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and a member of Sage, said studies had suggested children were ‘very minor players in the transmission overall’ of the virus.

And he insisted teachers were not at significantly higher risk than any other workers.

Ministers have also played down calls for teachers and pupils to be routinely tested whether or not they have symptoms. 

James Jamieson, chairman of the Local Government Association, which represents councils, said: ‘This announcement is good news for everyone. A strong national and local partnership is critical for test-and-trace to work as effectively as possible.’

The Lancet research by academics at University College London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said that ideally, at least 68 per cent of all close contacts needed to be alerted by teams and told to self-isolate.

If this threshold is not reached, they warned that the reopening of schools at the beginning of next month could trigger a second wave, possibly much bigger than the first. 

But the figures last Thursday showed that only 46 per cent of close contacts were alerted, a drop from 51 per cent on the previous week and well below the 68 per cent mark.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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