Testing and contact tracing

Test tubes

Effective and reliable testing and tracing of COVID-19 are essential to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Although we have seen an increase in testing capacity, members and wider stakeholders have expressed concerns about the availability and access to testing since the beginning of the crisis, especially for those in primary, community and social care. 

This page highlights key issues raised by members and stakeholders around testing and tracing, and our asks of the government. 

Test and trace update: 28 May 

The NHS Test and Trace service is a central part of the government’s coronavirus recovery strategy. Official guidance on the service will be released soon.

The NHS Confederation has been vocal in pushing for local authorities and systems to be involved in the development and implementation of the service. We held a meeting for our members with Tom Riordan, chief executive of Leeds City Council and Sarah-Jane Marsh, chief executive of Birmingham Women’s and Children’s Hospital, who are respectively responsible for contract tracing and testing.

The test and trace service will be focused around four main actions: testing, tracing, containing and enabling. The service will be phased in and will initially be implemented in 11 areas. The local councils which are outside the pilot areas will be invited to participate in regular engagement and best practice sharing sessions.

During the meeting, details were provided on how national, regional and local teams will work together to deliver the service and the seven themes that the plan will be centred on were outlined.

Once the official guidance on the strategy is published, we will update our members.


Access and availability to testing has been an issue our members have faced since the beginning of the crisis. In recent weeks, the government has reported an increase in the availability of testing, but members are still finding it difficult to access testing. This is due to physical accessibility as well as guidance on how to access for some.

Experts have also raised concerns around the reliability of the tests. We acknowledge that no test can be 100 per cent accurate, but to increase trust in our members, we need to: 

  • acknowledge that there is capacity for testing, but further guidance is needed for staff on how to access testing – continued increase in local testing is also needed to ensure that staff can easily access the testing site
  • increase the confidence of our members – we are seeking further clarification on the accuracy of the tests.

Tracking and tracing 

Contact tracing is vital to help slow the spread of the virus, yet members across the health care system have raised concerns about the execution of contact tracing. 

The government has recently introduced the ‘test, track and trace’ strategy, which is being developed to help slow the spread of COVID-19 will work in practice. Our members have expressed concerns around the execution of the contact tracing strategy and we have written to the Secretary of State for Health to express their concerns.

There is a real opportunity for local organisations and systems to conduct tracing and we strongly believe that for the tracing to be implemented effectively, local authorities and infrastructure must be used. 

We are seeking clarification on the government’s plans are to ensure effective coordination nationally across governmental bodies to ensure a joined-up approach is delivered on the ground. 

We are also seeking clarification on what the government’s plans are to work closely with local agencies as part of the strategy.

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