NHS Test and Trace has slashed 2,000 contact tracer roles despite renewed pressure on the system from rising infections.
The army of call centre contact tracers was quietly cut from 12,000 to 10,000 within the last few weeks, Whitehall sources confirmed.
It comes amid fresh strain on the programme, seen as vital to the Government’s pandemic response, as the number of people it processes soars.
Critics said the move proved the system has been a shambles since being launched in May. The 2,000 axed roles come on top of 6,000 lost in August.
NHS Test and Trace has slashed 2,000 contact tracer roles despite renewed pressure on the system from rising infections. Pictured: The Test and Trace smartphone app
When ministers launched the system, which Boris Johnson promised would be ‘world beating’, they said that 25,000 dedicated contract tracing staff had been recruited.
Last night the Department of Health said the move was about allocating more roles to regional teams to work with councils following criticism that the centrally run system was failing to tackle local virus outbreaks.
But MPs said there was ‘no evidence’ resources were being re-deployed locally. Former culture minister Ben Bradshaw, Labour MP for Exeter, said: ‘It has been clear for a long time that the tracing element of test and trace is in collapse.
‘We had the lowest level of successful tracing on record this week.
‘If this reduction is a sign that the Government is finally understanding that this job needs to be done by local public health officials at local level, then I welcome that.
The army of call centre contact tracers was quietly cut from 12,000 to 10,000 within the last few weeks, Whitehall sources confirmed. Pictured: A couple wearing face masks download the NHS Track and Trace app on their mobile phones in London
‘But I’ve heard no evidence from my local public health people that they’re getting any more resources or bodies. The system has been in disarray from the start. Boris Johnson and his Government decided, instead of using the existing public health infrastructure, to do this work by centralising the system and it’s been a disaster.’
Call centre contact tracers are employed by private firms Sitel and Serco, which were awarded contracts worth £108million and £84million respectively.
They receive contact details on IT systems and should contact people who have tested positive for Covid-19 and any contacts they have been near.
But workers have repeatedly reported problems such as IT crashes and people not answering their phones or not leaving correct contact details.
It comes as the Test and Trace system recorded its worst week on record.
Some 65 more people have died after testing positive for Covid-19 – nearly double the 33 deaths recorded last week
Some 51,475 new people tested positive for Covid-19 in England in the week to September 30, according to figures on Thursday. This was up 56 per cent in a week and is the highest number of tests the system has had to process.
Just 69 per cent of close contacts of those who tested positive were reached in the week ending September 30.
This is the lowest since Test and Trace began, and down from 73 per cent the previous week.
John Spellar, Labour MP for Birmingham Northfield, said: ‘They don’t seem to have a grasp on what they need to be doing. It’s crackers.
‘If they transferred these people to the local public health officers who actually know what they’re doing I wouldn’t object but is that really what they’re doing? I’ve not heard that from people on the ground.’
One Sitel worker told the Mail that about three-quarters of his team of 55 had lost their jobs in recent weeks.
A Serco spokesman said: ‘We have sufficient capacity to meet the demands from the Government.’ Sitel did not respond to requests for comment.
The Department of Health said over 240,000 tests a day on average were carried out last week and more than half a million people have been contacted to self-isolate, helping cut transmission.