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27 May 2020

Daily briefing with Matt Hancock, Jonathan Van-Tam, Dido Harding – NHS test and trace system starts tomorrow, 'testing and tracing must become a new way of life'


Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock includes these key points in his speech, beginning with today's formal launch of NHS Test and Trace and an update on the daily figures. He describes the test and trace concept – testing to find out who is infected, contact tracing, 'like detectives' where the NHS clinician and the person who has tested positive work together to 'identify the possible movements of the virus' and who else might be infected. Then to isolate contacts who might have been infected and break the chain of transmission. Some people have asked why now, 'because we needed to flatten the curve'. We had contact tracing at the beginning but the number of infections grew so large that we needed lockdown. He says daily new infections are 'right down' so the number of contacts of those who test positive is small enough to be in touch with everyone. Testing capacity is critical. From the following day (28 May 2020), testing eligibility will be expanded to everyone younger than 5 years old. 'To protect your friends and your family, testing and tracing must become a new way of life.'

Hancock updates on the devolved administrations. He repeats self-isolation instructions, describing this as 'your civic duty'. This will be voluntary at first 'because we trust everyone to do the right thing' but the government can quickly make it mandatory, 'Because, if we don’t collectively make this work, then the only way forward is to keep the lockdown.' He urges people to do it for 'the people you love', your community, the NHS, for front-line workers. He says the system will start at 09.00 the following day, saying 'This is a very distinct change on our approach.' Matt Hancock repeats existing and new NHS Test and Trace self-isolation advice. He acknowledges this is a 'big ask' but says 'this is for a purpose' – the safety of everyone. In the coming weeks 'we will gradually and very carefully move away from a lockdown that is national in scope, blanket in application and start moving towards a system that is much more targeted in scope and focuses local action on tackling local flare-ups'. He describes this as 'a brand new service on a scale never seen before. There will be bumps in the road and we will constantly improve it'. Once bedded in, the NHS contact tracing app being piloted on the Isle of Wight will be rolled out.

Key points in the Q&A focus around questions on the test and trace system. Dido Harding, Chair of NHS Improvement and of the NHS Test and Trace programme, says the 25,000 contact tracers starting work the following day are 'easily enough' to trace down the contacts today when most of us are in lockdown. They expect to scale up the service in human and technology form as lockdown measures are gradually released. Answering a question about previous issues with testing, Harding notes that he previous day (26 May), 84% of test results in drive-in centres were returned in 24 hours and 95% of all tests within 48 hours. She says there has been tremendous progress in turnaround times in the last few weeks but this will continue to improve. In response to a question about local flare-ups, Matt Hancock says directors of public health have a critical role to play in making local judgements, tying that up with national intelligence. Public Health England (PHE) has 'long experience' of doing this. Dido Harding says they are building a national effort, but the way that spread of infection will be stamped out is local action (she discusses the role of upper tier authorities). It needs to be 'locally led and nationally supported'. Responding to a question about where you isolate, Matt Hancock says if you are a contact of someone who has tested positive and are instructed to isolate, your household does not have to isolate. Asked about the delay of the app, Hancock says it was not due to technical problems. He says the app is a complement and is best brought forward once this system is embedded.


Gov.uk speech

Gov.uk press release – NHS Test and Trace launched