Coronavirus UK: Contact tracers say the system is 'shambolic'

Contact tracers have warned the NHS system designed to curb the spread of Covid-19 in Britain is 'obviously not ready' - and revealed they are being paid up to £27-an-hour to do nothing. 

Health officials warned 'key bits' of the programme for England were not yet up-and-running when it went live on Thursday, four days ahead of the billed start date of June 1.

Scores of the 25,000 employees hired by the Government have come forward to say they have had no positive cases allocated to them since the launch, with one even suggesting there was a fault with the system. 

Contact tracers say the system remains 'shambolic' and unfit for purpose as millions of pupils return to school today. Workers last week also complained they hadn't had any training by the time it launched and had waited weeks for log-in details. 

The tracing programme aims to halt the virus and control local flare-ups by asking anyone who has been in contact with a Covid-19 positive case to self-isolate for 14 days.

But there are concerns Britons will refuse to give friends or relatives details, and one call handler revealed two of the three potentially infected contacts she rang went straight to voicemail. 

The goal is to rapidly test anyone who logs Covid-19 symptoms - but antigen testing figures have barely budged in the past few days, and many Brits have to wait days to get their swab results. Around 8,000 Brits have been diagnosed with the disease since the system was launched.

The head of the NHS Test and Trace has said test timings need to improve, and top experts say the system will only work if cases are turned around quickly - otherwise the virus will continue to spread.

The Government has failed to reveal exactly how many people have been tested for eight days now, and has yet to provide information for how many people have been traced so far.   

A government diagram explain how the NHS Test and Trace system will work

A government diagram explain how the NHS Test and Trace system will work

Contact tracers say the system in England is 'obviously not ready' while admitting they are being paid up to £27 per hour to do nothing. Pictured, operators in Belgium

Contact tracers say the system in England is 'obviously not ready' while admitting they are being paid up to £27 per hour to do nothing. Pictured, operators in Belgium

The government insisted yesterday that the system was running efficiently and had the capacity to handle 10,000 new cases per day. For comparison, statistics suggest fewer than 8,000 Brits are being struck down each day.

Boris Johnson said the programme would be 'world beating' but evidence suggests the contact-tracing army has been left ill-prepared and, in many cases, workers have nothing to do – at a cost to the taxpayer of £1.6million per day.  


At least 10 per cent of Britons will ignore requests to self-isolate when contacted by NHS Covid tracers, a health chief has warned.

Professor Isabel Oliver helped design the Government's tracing app to track those who are at risk of being infected. 

The Director of the Field Epidemiology Service at Public Health England told the Sunday Telegraph that though most people are willing to comply, a minority will disobey instructions. 

It is thought that lockdown fatigue will cause people to ignore advice offered to them.

'This has been a very prolonged outbreak,' she said. 'Invariably we find that everyone is very willing to help, but these are exceptional circumstances, with an outbreak that has been so prolonged and had such an extensive impact on the people's lives, so it is understanding that some people will be resistant. 

'But having said that we are finding that lots of people are supportive and we are very grateful for that because for the programme to be successful in controlling the virus - we need that support from the nation as a whole.'

Test and trace launched in England on Thursday and Professor Oliver's team immediately hit a wall of IT problems.

But she stressed that any delays to having tracers logged in was down to the fact that the app is run on a 'very secure system'.  


On a public Facebook group for clinical contact tracers, several reported spending most of their shifts waiting to be assigned cases through the system, called CTAS.

It is supposed to show the patients assigned to a tracer along with unassigned cases that can be picked up. 

One tracer said he had not had any cases on Saturday, while another said two of three calls she made went straight to voicemail, The Times reports. 

One of the 3,000 clinical case workers hired by Public Health England said she had completed three four-hour shifts, at £27-an-hour, but hadn't made any calls yet. She told The Times: 'I have had absolutely nothing to do.' 

The nurse said she had seen 'zero cases' on the system throughout three shifts and felt 'tremendously guilty about doing the shifts and being paid and not having anything to do really'.

'It's very obviously not ready,' she said. 'Something is not working between CTAS and the test results that are coming in.'

Another contact tracer said he was still waiting for login details to access training, and said the system had been 'chaotic'.

His job as a 'tier three' call handler should be to ring the contacts of positive cases and tell them to self-isolate and curb the potential spread of Covid-19.

Details of those who test positive are passed to a company called Sitel, which is running the track and trace handling across the UK.

Agents read from a prepared script when they are given the name and telephone number of a person who has been diagnosed with Covid-19. 

They ask for the details of friends and family the infected person has come into contact with during the previous two weeks. 

The tracing agent then makes contact with those on their list and informs them they have to self-isolate.

One tracer said colleagues who were on shift were 'sitting there all day waiting and just refreshing their screens'. He said: 'They've got nothing to do.'

The public have not been given much confidence so far that they will not be phoned by a scammer and told to self-isolate.

When asked how members of the public can be sure a phone call is genuine, Dr Jenny Harries, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England, said it was 'highly unlikely with all the confidentiality around the data systems that you will be contacted inappropriately by anyone'. 

Speaking at yesterday's Downing Street briefing, she said: 'I think it will be very obvious in the conversation you have with them that they are genuine in that regard. 

'I think it will be very evident when somebody rings you these are professionally trained individuals and sitting over them are a group of senior clinical professionals.'  

It followed a warning from a health official that at least 10 per cent of Britons will ignore requests to self-isolate when contacted by NHS Covid-19 tracers, due to lockdown fatigue or having to keep working. 

Professor Isabel Oliver, who helped design the Government's tracing app, told the Sunday Telegraph that though most people are willing to comply, a minority will disobey instructions.   

The government has so far refused to say exactly how many Brits have been contact traced.

Matt Hancock claimed the 200,000-a-day coronavirus testing target had been met yesterday - but the number of people who have actually been tested has not come close to that figure.

The Department of Health said only 115,725 tests had been carried out yesterday. But it has not been giving out the number for how many individuals were actually tested for eight days now. Some tests are carried out twice. 

The Health Secretary said the UK had the 'capacity' for 205,634 tests daily as of yesterday, describing it as 'one of the greatest national mobilisations we have seen'. 

But the level was also only reached by including 'capacity' to conduct 40,000 antibody tests - which tell if someone has previously had the infection, and not if they have it currently. 

Scientists have repeatedly said the contact tracing system will only work if testing is rapid because the aim is to find and isolate contacts of a positive case before they become infectious and spread the virus to others. 

Head of NHS Test and Trace Baroness Dido Harding has said test timings have 'got to get better and better'.

The launch in England on Thursday came as a shock to some workers who hadn't been told what to do. Many contact tracers had no idea the system was launching that day. Others hadn't completed basic training. 

'People are panicking as there is no information on the websites/systems to make the calls,' wrote one test and trace caller at 9.39am, on the day test and trace went live, in an internal chat seen by the Daily Mail. 

Others reported being sent their link for training at 8pm the night before the launch, while a manager said the instructions for what to do would 'cascade' down from the top on the day of the launch while admitting the process had been 'frustrating'.

An internal chat seen by the Daily Mail says, 'People are also panicking as there is no information on the websites/systems for them to make the calls'

An internal chat seen by the Daily Mail says, 'People are also panicking as there is no information on the websites/systems for them to make the calls'


Britain abandoned test and tracing for the coronavirus earlier in the pandemic because the system could only cope with five cases a week, it has emerged.

Official documents from the Government's Sage advisory committee reveal that the routine testing and tracing of contacts of people with the virus was stopped because Public Health England was facing a desperate shortage of capacity.

Since the first Covid-19 cases were confirmed in York on January 31, 272,826 people in the UK have since tested positive for the virus. 

This week the Government launched the NHS England's Test and Trace programme, with 25,000 contact tracing staff and the capacity to trace the 10,000 contacts per day.

The decision to scrap routine testing for those displaying symptoms 12 weeks ago is now being seen as a major factor for how the UK has the fifth-highest total number of infections. 

Sage documents show how, in a meeting on February 18, advisors said that Public Health England (PHE) could only manage the contacts of five Covid cases a week, hoping to possibly increase this to 50 people.

Minutes from the meeting say: 'Currently PHE can cope with five new cases a week (requiring isolation of 800 contacts).

Some 10,000 call handlers were employed by Serco, one of which approached the Mail last week concerned that the system was catastrophically under-prepared. 

'There's absolutely no chance it's ready,' the 38-year-old whistle-blower from Manchester said. 

'If it does happen [this week]… there will be catastrophic and continued failings from that day onwards. This is serious – it's a pandemic, and lives are at risk. I'm genuinely worried about how we are about to be set loose on the public.'

On Thursday an ex-shop worker now paid £10-an-hour as an NHS coronavirus 'track and tracer' claimed she had nothing to do.

The call handler, who asked not to be named, told MailOnline she had been paid to sit and do nothing, and warned there was 'nothing we can do' about infected Brits who refuse to hand over the names and telephone numbers of people they came into close contact with.  

She said: 'Everything is voluntary and if they refuse to give us the names and telephone numbers there is nothing we can do,' said the track and trace agent.

'We work from a script and try to persuade the person to be co-operative but if they hang up we just move on to the next person. It seems a major flaw, but there is nothing we can really do about it.' 

One contact tracer told LBC radio on Friday it had been a 'complete shambles' so far, and they had not received their logon details for the site.

And before 11am, medical phone handlers reported that the system had crashed, and were greeted with the message that 'this has been reported as a critical incident'. 

A Department of Health spokesman denied that the whole system had crashed.

'Anyone in the country can log on and book a test if they have symptoms and we have tracers logged on to do their vital work to help stop the spread of coronavirus and save lives,' the spokesman said.

'As with all large scale operations of this kind, some staff did initially encounter issues logging on to their systems and these are rapidly being resolved.'

There are concerns about the fact the local aspect of the tracing system will not be ready until at least the end of June - as told to MPs by Baroness Dido Harding.

One of the contact tracers said she had not been told how to escalate cases, something she is required to do when there is a larger public health concern, such as if a Covid-19 patient has visited a care home or school.

It comes as reception, Year 1 and Year 6 pupils in England return to schools amid anxiety that the move has come too early. 

Several scientists have criticised major changes in the lockdown today, suggesting it is too early to lift restrictions and could cause infections to rapidly rise again. 

So what do you need to know about the NHS Test and Trace system for England? And how will it affect you and your loved ones?

Where do I get a coronavirus test? 

Anyone with coronavirus symptoms - a fever, cough or loss of smell and taste - can now apply to get tested for the infection through the NHS.

Officials offer Brits with tell-tale symptoms the chance to either test themselves at home, or to get swabbed at a drive-through centre. 

The test involves taking a swab of the inside of your nose and the back of your throat, using a long cotton bud.

Anyone going to get tested must drive themselves, or be taken to their local site by someone they live with to prevent unnecessarily spreading the virus.

The NHS says you can take up to three other people you live with to be tested at the same time.  

Home-tests - which involve you taking the swab yourself - are sent through the post and should arrive within

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