Testing Times

‘Test and Trace’ unlikely to be fixed by the end of lockdown

Hopes and expectations were raised in May, when Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, said, “We have growing confidence that we will have a test, track and trace operation that will be world-beating and yes, it will be in place by June 1.”

Six months on, and with Covid’s resurgence forcing the Prime Minister to announce another lockdown, most people would say forget the “world- beating,” we only ever wanted a test and trace system that works. Even the Government’s own Sage committee admitted at the end of October that ours currently isn’t.

According to the experts, too few people are getting tested, not enough of their contacts are being tracked down and instructions to self-isolate are mostly ignored.

In the summer, the Prime Minister made another bold promise: this time that half a million people would be tested every day by the end of October – it didn’t happen.

Perhaps it was that first unfulfilled promise of a “world class testing system” in lightning fast time that has meant the subsequent delays, failures, and further optimistic forecasts have left most of us largely unsurprised and generally somewhat cynical. Public confidence in the track and trace element of the system, in particular, remains low.

With contact made on an 0300 number, many think it is just another scam call, and there are difficulties over call backs when they are necessary.

There is frustration over the same questions being asked on repeated calls, and those receiving calls frequently feel as though they are not being listened to. Then there are problems when local authorities pick up on what national operations have missed.

With four IT systems being utilised and not well integrated, data is lost as cases and contacts are transferred between them. Understandably, and probably unsurprisingly, a major reported complaint, from within the campaign, is a lack of overall command and communication.

As the new lockdown was announced, the Leader of the Opposition, Sir Keir Starmer, demanded that the government use the time to ensure that the system is fixed by the time the lockdown is lifted.

But with Dido Harding, head of NHS Test and Trace, still complaining that she is struggling with what she inherited when she arrived in the role, confidence, either amongst the public, or within the system itself, is unlikely to be raised any time soon.

What our surveys show

Our survey results are emphatic; a clear and large majority of us believe that, as the battle against Covid-19 enters another crucial phase, simply waiting for a vaccine is not enough.

More than 80% of us regard an effective, mass testing process as either “very important” or “fairly important,” with a huge 68% of those plumping for the “very important” option.

A mere 15% consider it either “fairly unimportant” or “not important at all.” Clearly the public is largely unimpressed by the government strategy so far, and going forward, our leaders will find little comfort in the level of trust and confidence the public has in the current testing programme.

The broken promises, the continued setbacks, the blunders and delays in getting an effective system up and running efficiently has left 63% of us expressing a “low level of confidence” in the government’s testing programme.

Only 14% said they had a “high level of confidence” in the programme, while 11% said they had a “fair level of confidence.”

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