New NHS Test and Trace plan to support return to more normal way of life

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The NHS Test and Trace business plan sets out a strategy to increase the speed and reach of testing and tracing, working with local partnerships.

As part of the UK’s COVID-19 Winter Plan, NHS Test and Trace has set out a new business plan for the next phase of the service. The plan sets out the approach to disrupt and prevent COVID-19 transmission, protect people’s health and enable people to return towards a more normal way of life.

In a further improvement to the system, from today NHS COVID-19 app users in England, who have been instructed to isolate via the app, will be able to claim the £500 Test and Trace Support Payment, providing they meet the eligibility criteria. This comes as Apple revealed that the NHS COVID-19 app was the second most downloaded free iPhone app on its App Store in the UK this year.

Since NHS Test and Trace launched, 20% of people in the UK have been tested at least once, more than 41 million tests have been carried out and more than 2 million people in England have been contacted and notified to self-isolate.

The Government say the next phase of the service will focus on:

  • increasing the speed and reach of testing and tracing
  • better use of data, to help identify and react to clusters and outbreaks in close to real time
  • partnering with local leaders, backed by further funding worth potentially more than £200 million per month, in addition to over £780 million which has already been committed to local authorities
  • increased collaboration with the public, particularly those most affected by the virus, so we can respond to feedback from people who use the service

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said:

Testing and tracing is an important tool in enabling us to return to a more normal way of life. NHS Test and Trace has built the biggest testing capability in Europe, and has made huge improvements in its contact tracing system. I am hugely grateful to everyone who is working so hard to deliver these improvements.

With up to a third of people with coronavirus not showing any symptoms, it is incredibly important to test those who could be infecting others unknowingly, so we are rolling out community testing to bring down local transmission rates.

Interim Executive Chair of the National Institute for Health Protection, Baroness Dido Harding added:

There are more than 50,000 people across the country working around the clock to expand and improve NHS Test and Trace. Since July, we have moved even closer to Public Health England and our combined, joint response has delivered an enormous amount.

The extensive work NHS Test and Trace has done to accelerate development, and the introduction of innovative technologies, is giving us new possibilities. With new lateral flow tests we can turbo-charge our testing capacity and enable rapid, regular testing in hospitals, care homes, workplaces, universities and other areas that we value and that we need as a society to stay open and stay safe, enabling everyone to move towards a more normal way of life.

We have more certainty about the virus and a clear line of sight as to how NHS Test and Trace can tackle it – as our second line of defence after hands, face, space. I am hugely grateful to everyone who has helped to bring NHS Test and Trace to this point and who stands ready to take it into the next phase.

The Government say millions more will now be reached through new lateral flow devices – rapid testing on a scale not previously seen – including the many people (around 1 in 3) who have coronavirus but no symptoms, and will be spreading the virus without realising it. A key priority for NHS Test and Trace is the rollout of rapid community testing to help bring down local transmission rates and provide a route for areas in Tier 3 to move down to a lower tier.

In the coming months, NHS Test and Trace will further enhance the role of local teams and Directors of Public Health in testing and tracing through community testing and going further on local tracing partnerships. 250 local tracing partnerships are now live across the country. This will allow NHS Test and Trace to reach a greater number of people with the virus and their contacts.

The plan shows every upper tier local authority will be supported to build its own capacity, using community-based tracers who can draw on local intelligence. Community-based teams will focus particularly on vulnerable or harder-to-engage groups, as many have been doing successfully since the summer. These local teams will work with the national team as part of a ‘team of teams’, supported by extra capacity to meet surges in demand.

According to reports NHS Test and Trace’s testing capacity is expanding to unprecedented levels, beyond the 500,000 daily testing capacity achieved by the end of October, through an integrated network of NHS, private and not-for-profit laboratories. More than 700 test sites are now in operation across England, including more than 300 local walk-through testing sites, meaning the average distance to a test centre has halved since the beginning of September to a median distance of 2.4 miles.

Matt Hancok’s team say crucial data shared by Public Health England (PHE) and the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC), is enabling smarter ways of tackling the virus. They report JBC provides valuable insight of the early-warning indicators of outbreaks so local and national decision makers can respond more quickly and effectively, bringing down infection rates.

Building on its achievements to date, they add NHS Test and Trace will bring together expertise and data sources, including from the NHS COVID-19 app, enhanced contact tracing, wastewater analysis, and local ‘soft’ intelligence to identify and halt local clusters before they become outbreaks – and respond more effectively to cross-border outbreaks when they occur.

The app, which has now been downloaded more than 20 million times, remains a key tool to help break chains of transmission. Symptomatic users inputting positive test results into the app increases the number of people contact traced and the speed contact tracing happens, which helps reduce the spread of coronavirus and supports the reduction in the R number.

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