About this tracker

  • The NHS Test and Trace (NHSTT) system aims to control the spread of COVID-19 in England by ensuring that people can be tested when necessary, and by identifying close contacts of people who have tested positive (positive cases) and asking them to self-isolate.
  • The government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) has recommended that at least 80% of close contacts of positive cases must be reached for the system to be effective.  
  • In this tracker, we monitor and reflect on the performance of NHS Test and Trace, analysing the latest statistics on the number of positive cases reached and the number of contacts who were asked to isolate each week since the launch of NHSTT on 28 May 2020.
  • The tracker will be updated every 2 weeks. It was last updated on 22 October 2020 with data covering 8 to 14 October 2020.

Key points: 8–14 October

  • The number of people testing positive keeps rising, up 12% from last week to over 100,000 this week for the first time. And of the 96,521 that were passed to NHSTT, call handlers were still able to reach 81% of cases.
     
  • But things are taking longer. The median length of time taken for people to receive test results for in-person tests (regional, local and mobile test sites) has jumped from 28 hours last week to 45 hours this week. The proportion of non-complex cases reached within 24 hours of being passed to NHSTT has fallen to 54% compared with 77% at the beginning of September (with implications for local contact tracing teams – see last week’s entry below). And the proportion of their contacts reached within 24 hours of the case being transferred to NHSTT is now just 32% compared with 52% back in early September.
     
  • And while the proportion of cases being reached remains high, the proportion of contacts reached has fallen for the fourth week in a row to 60% of all contacts. But rather than this being due to worsening call handler performance, it’s mainly a result of non-complex contacts (where there is a lower success rate of being reached compared with complex contacts) making up a higher proportion of all contacts this week compared to the week before.
     
  • The average number of contacts per case for the 76,096 non-complex cases transferred to NHSTT is the same as last week, but for the 1,796 complex cases, the average number of contacts has fallen from 29 per case three weeks ago to just seven per case this week. This may just be due to chance, but it also may represent a combination of better social distancing, more limited social mixing, and appropriate use of personal protective equipment (PPE) in care settings.

Long read

NHS Test and Trace: the journey so far

About 16 mins to read

Long read

Launched at the end of May, NHS Test and Trace is not yet the ‘world-beating’ contact tracing...

  • On 2 October, the national system identified an error in how pillar 2 cases are transferred to contact tracing. This meant that 15,841 cases (from 25 September to 2 October) that hadn’t previously been sent through to NHS Test and Trace (NHSTT) were transferred in bulk on 3 October. Therefore, this week’s data include 11,000 cases transferred to NHSTT that would have ordinarily been dealt with the previous week.
     
  • This week the percentage of cases reached increased from 75% to 77%, and the percentage of cases providing details of contacts also rose from 83% to 85%, its highest since NHSTT began. This shows a slight improvement but doesn’t tell the whole story.
     
  • There were still 20,000 cases that weren’t contacted by NHSTT, and of those cases providing details of contacts, the average number of contacts per case has dropped significantly. This could be due to several factors including people not mixing as much due to increased social restrictions. Correspondingly, the percentage of all contacts that are from the same household as the case has been rising for four weeks in a row, from 57% in the first week of September to 66% in the most recent week.
     
  • Local contact tracing systems are being set up across the country - around half of local authorities now have one in place. Generally, these local systems follow up local cases that the national team hasn’t reached within the first 24 hours of being transferred to NHSTT. Their workload in recent weeks has not only been affected by rising case numbers, but also by significant delays in how long the national team takes to reach cases. The percentage of cases reached within 24 hours has fallen for four successive weeks, and now stands at just 56% of all cases transferred, down from 77% in the first week of September.
     
  • The percentage of contacts of non-complex cases that NHSTT reaches is also falling, and is now just 58% compared with 64% two weeks ago. This may partly be down to difficulties in reaching contacts from cases whose transfer to NHSTT was delayed, but when factoring in evidence that as little as 11% of contacts may actually comply with isolation rules, the implications for containing transmission are significant. These issues are exacerbated by how long it’s now taking for NHSTT to reach contacts and advise them to self-isolate. The proportion of close contacts reached within 24 hours of either the contact or the case first being identified is now at an all-time low of 61% and 39% respectively.

  • Cases are people who have had a positive antigen swab test.
  • Complex cases are those linked to outbreaks or where an individual has recently visited a high-risk setting, such as a hospital or care home. All other cases are defined as non-complex cases.
  • Close contacts are defined as anyone who a case has had face-to-face contact with (within 1 metre), spent more than 15 minutes within 2 metres of, travelled with in a car, or sat close to on a plane.

Further reading

Long read

NHS Test and Trace: the journey so far

About 16 mins to read

Long read

Launched at the end of May, NHS Test and Trace is not yet the ‘world-beating’ contact tracing...

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A timeline to 12 October 2020 of national policy and health system responses to COVID-19 in England.

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