Test and trace figures reflect spiralling case numbers amid lack of testing access

Layla McCay

Responding to the latest NHS test and trace figures, Dr Layla McCay, director at the NHS Confederation, said: “It appears we are now in a position where the spread of the virus is no longer being adequately controlled, with new cases nearly tripling compared with the end of August. This is especially alarming at a time when winter is almost upon us, and access to testing has become a major problem, including for frontline staff.
 
“The figures also suggest testing capacity continues to increase – but so does demand. At this stage, the important question is whether or not there will be enough capacity for people to get tested when they experience COVID-19 symptoms – and for those who have been tested, whether they are receiving their results sufficiently promptly to avoid unnecessary self-isolation and to enable good contact tracing.
 
“As it stands, many people cannot access tests at all, and those who can are having to wait longer for the results, or travel long distances to get tested in the first place. That includes health and care staff, which could jeopardise the ability to restore services and keep up with COVID-19 treatment. We must also avoid a situation where either A&E departments or GP surgeries are overwhelmed with people seeking tests.
 
“Demand for testing is likely to continue rising, as more coughs and fevers emerge during the winter months, and it is therefore absolutely vital that access to testing, alongside much more robust tracing, is the top priority for the Government, particularly for health and care staff. It now appears that a second surge may already be underway and we know an effective test and trace system is key to reducing the risk of the virus spreading. It is concerning that this system seems to be faltering under predictable pressure.
 
“With schools and universities opening, it’s good that almost all complex contacts continue to be reached, but taking into account all close contacts identified, only 73.9 per cent were reached and asked to self-isolate. This is an improvement from last week, but still not enough to meet the 80 per cent set out by SAGE.”

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