Test and trace figures disappoint as ONS data shows England had highest excess mortality in Europe

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On Thursday, the latest NHS test and trace figures were published, along with a business plan for the programme, as well as the ONS comparison of all-cause mortality between European countries, and a statement on extending self-isolation from the UK's chief medical officers.

In response, Dr Layla McCay, a director at the NHS Confederation, said:

“There were some improvements in the latest test and trace figures, with a higher percentage of people reached who had their case transferred to the contact tracing system. But it was disappointing to see that the percentage of close contacts reached has fallen week-on-week. If more close contacts cannot be reached, it will be far harder to maintain safety and protect the NHS.

“This is particularly concerning as it comes at the same time as analysis that England had the highest levels of mortality in Europe between January and June, according to the latest ONS data comparing all-cause mortality.

“The new ONS analysis of excess deaths in the UK may reflect delays in the Government’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak. As well as highlighting how many lives were lost, the data emphasises the importance of timing of easing lockdown restrictions. It also re-emphasises how much a strong test and trace system was needed at the beginning of the pandemic and continues to be needed now. We’re some seven months past the first confirmed cases in the UK and have a system that is still in its infancy.

“It’s reassuring to see the Chief Medical Officers continuing to evaluate the latest evidence to take actions like extending the self-isolation period to ten days, as this will hopefully help to contain the spread of the virus further. But we still need to see major improvements in the test and trace system to avoid overwhelming the NHS with another surge of infections.

“The test and trace business plan, published today, makes numerous promises to improve the system, and we hope these will be fulfilled, but it also raises questions about why some of these improvements have not been made already, including raising public awareness, ensuring testing is accessible to all, and the introduction of the much-vaunted app.”

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