Test and Trace is still getting worse, as official figures today revealed the number of people getting their swab result back in 24 hours has dropped again.
Fewer than one in three people who have an ‘in-person’ Covid-19 test get told they are either negative or positive within 24 hours — meaning the rate has halved in a fortnight.
And just 1.8 per cent of people in England who take a DIY swab get their results back in the target time, down slightly on last week’s record-low of 1.9 per cent.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged 100 per cent of people would get their result back within 24 hours by the end of June. But government statistics show it has still yet to hit the target.
Suspected Covid-19 patients who take tests at home, at drive throughs and at pop-up sites now have to wait a record 40 hours, on average, to discover whether or not they are positive.
And one in 20 have to travel 50 miles or further to get checked, despite ministers batting away claims that swathes of Britons were being told to drive hours away to get checked for the life-threatening illness.
Figures also suggest the number of people complying with the NHS Test and Trace system is stalling, with fewer Covid-19 cases giving details of friends and family this week.
It comes as the NHS Covid app was finally launched today, four months after it was first promised. But flaws have already been exposed with claims the Bluetooth-based software will wrongly tell up to a third of its users to self-isolate after incorrectly thinking they have come close to an infected person.
The testing system collapsed when children returned to school, prompting Baroness Dido Harding, No 10’s testing tsar, to confess that demand had outstripped capacity by ‘three or four times’. It has meant possible Covid-19 patients have been asked to drive hundreds of miles to get a swab.
Mr Johnson has promised to raise capacity to 500,000 a day by the end of October but the industry warned yesterday that it is already a ‘few weeks behind’ the Prime Minister’s target due to delays in deliveries.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer clashed with Mr Johnson once again in the House of Commons yesterday, after Mr Starmer accused the PM of ‘pretending there isn’t a problem’ with testing.
It now takes an average of 75 hours for a person who takes a home test to get a result back
One in 20 have to travel 50 miles to get checked. Pictured is the average distance travelled for a test for each route
SIR KEIR STARMER ACCUSES BORIS OF ‘PRETENDING THERE ISN’T A PROBLEM WITH TEST AND TRACE’
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer took aim at the Prime Minister today, accusing him of pretending there was no problem with the coronavirus test and trace programme and blaming it for new lockdown measures.
In a rather subdued Prime Minister’s Questions they faced off over the under-performing programme which has been the focus of much criticism in recent months.
During the set-piece exchange, Boris Johnson defended the head of NHS Test and Trace, Baroness Dido Harding, and said the UK is testing ‘more people than any other European country’.
But opening their Commons exchange, Sir Keir questioned why the Prime Minister said yesterday the Test and Trace system has ‘very little or nothing’ to do with the spread or the transmission of Covid-19, after previously hailing it as a game-changer.
Sir Keir said: ‘Both positions cannot be right’, adding: ‘Pretending there isn’t a problem is part of the problem, Prime Minister.’
‘Is the explanation from the PM that we haven’t got enough capacity because nobody could have expected the rise in demand? That’s the Dido Harding defence – or is it we’ve got all the capacity we need, it just that people are being unreasonable in asking for tests? That’s the (Matt) Hancock defence. So which is it?’
Mr Johnson replied: ‘I must say that the continual attacks by the Opposition on Dido Harding in particular are unseemly and unjustified.’
He added: ‘Testing more people than any other European country… we’re going to go up 500,000 tests by the end of October.’
He accused the Opposition leader of failing to support the Government’s plans saying: ‘What I frankly want to hear is more of the spirit of togetherness than we had yesterday.’
It came after Baroness Harding faced a grilling from MPs last Thursday, telling them nobody was ‘expecting’ to see the ‘really sizeable increase in demand,’ for testing, that has caused chaos at test centres across the country in recent weeks.
The Government’s testing tsar said the current daily capacity of 240,000 had been put in place ‘based on SAGE modelling for what we should be preparing for the autumn’. Sage members later hit back, saying she had been given clear advice.
Meanwhile, she revealed that demand for Covid tests is currently up to four times greater than the system’s capacity.
However, while some centres are stretched to the limit trying to deliver, others remain empty, with one worker even pictured falling asleep on the job at a site in Heathrow.
There have been numerous reports of staff at deserted walk-in testing centres turning people away if they didn’t have an appointment or weren’t showing obvious coronavirus symptoms.
The 1.8 per cent of people in England who used a home test kit for Covid-19 and received their result within 24 hours in the week to September 16 is a drop from 1.9 per cent the previous week.
It also the lowest percentage since Test and Trace was launched at the end of May. At its best, 11.4 per cent got their result in 24 hours in the week to July 17.
Last week some 11.3 per cent of people received the result of a home test within 48 hours, up from 9.3 per cent during the week ending September 9.
It now takes an average of 75 hours to get a result back, during which time people are expected to stay at home and isolate, potentially taking time off work.
Turnaround also faltered in all other situations, with drive-in centres managing to return only 31.8 per cent within 24 hours. Almost one fifth (17 per cent) have to wait between 48 and 72 hours.
The average time of booking a test at a drive-through facility to receiving a result has soared to 40 hours, up from 19 in the first week of July. Thirty of these hours are between actually taking the swab and getting the result back.
Only 37 per cent of tests are returned from Mobile Test Units in one day. These are testing hubs which travel around the UK to increase testing in places like prisons and police stations.
But the most shocking is those done at Satellite Test Centres – pop-up at places like hospitals or care homes that have a particularly urgent or significant need. Just 0.7 per cent got their result in 24 hours.
Across the country, people have described being told to travel hundreds of miles to get themselves or their children tested.
The NHS figures lay bare the scale of the problem; although 95 per cent have to travel fewer than 50 miles, it leaves five per cent travelling further than that.
The average distance travelled for an in-person test was 5.2 miles in the week from September 10 to 16.
The success of contact tracing relies heavily on finding Covid-19 positive cases and their contacts, and telling them to self isolate.
The data shows today these numbers are slipping, with 77.7 per cent of Covid-19 cases being reached by call-handlers and asked to hand over the details of their whereabouts and friends and family. This is down from 83 to 84 per cent in the three weeks prior.
A total of 74.7 per cent of ‘close contacts’ were reached and asked to self isolate, which has stayed level for the past few weeks but is nowhere near the 91.1 per cent in the week the system launched in May.
Since the system launched in May, 77.8 per cent out of a total of 517,601 people identified as close contacts have been reached. Call-handlers were unable to get hold of the remaining 114,819 people (22.2 per cent).
Professor James Naismith, director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute, and Professor of Structural Biology, University of Oxford, said: ‘The report does not disclose the compliance with isolation, if this is low, the system will fail no matter how well we reach contacts.
‘Another point to note is 60 per cent of the contacts reached reside in the same household, it needs to established whether this is reflection of the actual reality or self-reporting bias.
‘There is a danger we simply obsess about weekly scores rather asking the key question about what the system is supposed to deliver.’
It is almost four months since Boris Johnson told MPs the Government’s test, track and trace operation would be ‘world-beating’.
But facing the Commons Liaison Committee last Wednesday, the Prime Minister was forced to acknowledge the situation was not ‘ideal’ as demand was vastly outstripping capacity.
Labour’s Wes Streeting told Health Secretary Matt Hancock in the Commons last week the system was ‘a bloody mess’.
Last Thursday the NHS Test and Trace lead Baroness Harding faced a grilling from MPs, telling them nobody was ‘expecting’ to see the ‘really sizeable increase in demand,’ for testing, that has caused chaos at test centres across the country in recent weeks.
THOUSANDS OF ‘GPS AND NURSES OFF WORK BECAUSE THEY CAN’T GET TESTED’
Thousands of GPs and nurses are unable to go into work because they are waiting for results from a coronavirus test, it was claimed today.
The mounting absences caused by NHS staff having to self-isolate — which experts first warned about in the Spring — were revealed by the Royal College of GPs in a letter to testing tsar Baroness Dido Harding.
Delays are impacting doctors ability to see and diagnose patients suffering from life-threatening conditions early, potentially threatening their chances of survival. They said the difficulties are impacting rapid diagnoses of life-threatening diseases, such as septicaemia, kidney infections and meningitis.
It comes as separate data today revealed that more than 1.3million days of work were lost in the NHS in England due to coronavirus-related sickness between March and May.
The testing system has come under pressure since demand surged up to four times above capacity as schools and offices returned, leaving possible Covid-19 patients being asked to drive hundreds of miles to get a swab.
Boris Johnson has promised to raise capacity to 500,000 a day by the end of October, but the industry warned yesterday that it is already a ‘few weeks behind’ the Prime Minister’s target due to delays in deliveries.
And the UK’s seven-day average testing capacity has fallen over the last three days, from a high of 230,000 a day on September 18 to 226,000 on September 20.
Sage members later hit back, saying she had been given clear advice of the potential rise in demand expected from the autumn, leaving more unanswered questions about what had been done during the summer to ramp up efforts.
Cases of Covid-19 have been rising in recent weeks. But the NHS Test and Trace data shows this upward trajectory has began to slow.
The number of positive Covid-19 cases transferred to the NHS Test and Trace almost doubled from 10,491 in the first week of September to 18,770 the week after.
However, they only rose by 2.7 per cent to 19,278 last week.
Professor Naismith fears the small increase is in fact due to a problem in reporting, rather than a plateau in cases, because it was so vastly different from the huge spike the week prior.
He said: ‘The numbers are clearly rising with a doubling trend of around 2 weeks. Such problems in reporting with sudden dips and spikes bedevilled clear public messaging last time, it would be disappointing if this were happening again.’
But other experts say the ‘positivity rate’ – how many positive results there are of all the tests taken – is a stronger indication of how trends are changing, and that has barely budged.
Last week, 3.3 per cent of tests that were taken were positive compared with 3.2 per cent the week prior – barely any change at all. It rose one per cent in the week that cases appeared to double.
It comes as a long-awaited app was finally launched today – four months after it was promised but still with obvious glitches.
The latest NHS Covid-19 app has been trialled on the Isle of Wight and in the London borough of Newham since mid-August, after an initial build was scrapped because it had so many failures.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock this morning urged Britons to download the software to ‘make the country a safer place’, as he revealed almost 10,000 people a day are contracting Covid.
But it emerged today the app may wrongly tell up to a third of its users to self-isolate after incorrectly thinking they have come close to an infected person.
The Department of Health admits the technology still struggles to calculate precise distances, which means some users may be wrongly told to self-isolate even if they have been more than two metres away from an infected person.
Close contact is defined as being within two metres of someone for 15 minutes, but in early trials of the app some people have received alerts when they were four metres away.
The risk of false positives stems from the app’s reliance on Bluetooth signals, which can be affected by nearby objects.
This issue raises the risk of people deleting the app because they think it is not working properly, or simply deciding not to download it.
Those who receive false positives may also try to access testing centres, leading to more pressure on the already struggling service, or they could ignore the direction to self-isolate.
Officials say the app’s accuracy matches that of other countries, and downplayed hopes for the contact tracing function. They said its main benefit will be to encourage people to abide by social distancing and hygiene rules, The Times reported.
It also emerged today that the app cannot be accessed on the iPhone 6 or older models, despite officials hoping that between 15 and 50 per cent of the population in England and Wales will use it.
Social media users shared their attempts to add it to their phones only to see an error message saying it required iOS 13.5 or later.
This Apple operating system can only be downloaded on the iPhone 6S and newer models – excluding any handsets that are more than five years old.
Age UK warned many elderly people who tend to have older phones may not be able to use the crucial service.
Caroline Abrahams, the charity’s director, told MailOnline: ‘It’s unfortunate that you will need a relatively new smartphone to use the NHS App since many people of all ages don’t have one, older people especially.
‘When you add in the very significant numbers of older people who don’t own a smartphone at all, the upshot is that the NHS App seems likely to pass much of the older population by.’
The app appears to have no issues working on Android phones.