One-in-ten Brits could be tested for coronavirus each week after 30-minute saliva test is rolled out
A tenth of the country could be tested for coronavirus every week following the deployment of rapid saliva testing kits, it has emerged.
Government officials have asked all local directors of public health to sign up to receive the testing kits – which provide results in 30 minutes – as NHS test and trace embarks on an ‘important new front in our fight against coronavirus’, according to a leaked letter.
The move, seen as an acceleration of the Prime Minister’s ‘Operation Moonshot’ scheme, is intended to both contain outbreaks and preserve freedoms through mass testing.
A tenth of the country could be tested for coronavirus every week following the deployment of rapid saliva testing kits, it has emerged
Damning statistics published by the Government on Thursday showed NHS Test and Trace only tracked down 59 per cent of close contacts of people who tested positive for the virus in the week up to October 14. It’s the lowest weekly percentage since the scheme was launched in May
In the letter seen by The Guardian, Alex Cooper, director of rapid testing at NHS test and trace, says each director of public health will receive enough testing kits ‘equivalent to 10 percent of their population.’
It would see testing capacity increase from the current rate of around 300,000 per week to 5million.
Those under tier 3 restrictions, such as Liverpool and Manchester, will be prioritised for the phased rollout, with Mr Cooper stressing the programme will be nationwide ‘as quickly as possible’.
Last week, health secretary Matt Hancock told MPs his government had purchased ‘many millions’ of saliva tests from Innova, with Boris Johnson saying the saliva tests would ‘help control localised outbreaks’.
Also known as lateral flow tests, the rapid testing kits deliver results faster than the more commonly available PCR tests, and are aimed at testing asymptomatic people – PCR tests are only available to those with Covid-19 symptoms and key workers.
Last week, health secretary Matt Hancock told MPs his government had purchased ‘many millions’ of saliva tests from Innova
Mr Cooper added they would help ‘protect those at higher risk, find the virus, break transmission and enable wider social and economic activity’.
Some local health chiefs have criticised the plan, with one telling the Guardian: ‘There is no point in testing large numbers of the population unless you do something with the results.
‘We really, really want to improve testing and tracing, but once again this is the wrong way to go about it.’
Other local health directors immediately dismissed the idea, saying a lack of staff and a lack of scientific backing means it will struggle to be rolled out.
The saliva tests have been critically validated, according to NHS track and trace, but still require operational validation.
The Government has reportedly bought 20million of the tests, which cost £15.
Academics have warned that a new plan to test 10 million people a day could result in tens of thousands of people needlessly having to self-isolate. Pictured: The NHS Test and Trace app [File photo]
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘As the prime minister has announced we are already piloting new testing technologies in [the] north-west, north-east and Yorkshire with repeat testing for priority groups to identify those most at risk of spreading the virus.’
Under Operation Moonshot, the Government plans to deliver 10million tests a day by 2021.
But experts have warned mass testing could result in tens of thousands of people self-isolating needlessly.
Academics say the plan is ‘fundamentally flawed’ and risky because 10,000 people could get a false positive each day, resulting in ‘unnecessary isolation and hardship’ for them and thousands of contacts.
There have been concerns over the appointment of Dido Harding as the head of NHS Test and Trace – previously CEO of the phone company TalkTalk – with fresh calls for her to be sacked last week
The comments came in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.
Researchers from Glasgow, St Andrews and Newcastle universities called for a new test and trace strategy with more local council control.
And they say Operation Moonshot should not be pursued while there are still major problems with test and trace.
They wrote: ‘In setting up a parallel testing system in the private sector, local public health departments and primary care were separated from the testing system.
‘As a result, the statutory notification system for reporting suspected cases was not followed.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson revealed the ambitious testing target of 10 million people each day as part of a strategy known as Operation Moonshot
‘This resulted in poor community data which is likely to have delayed outbreak control.’
They criticised the Government for pushing forward with ‘Operation Moonshot’ despite major problems with test and trace.
The latest data from test and trace shows that just one in seven people who get tested at a centre are given results within 24 hours – the lowest level since it began.
The proportion of close contacts reached after someone tested positive has also dropped to 59.6 per cent – despite officials saying 80 per cent was needed for an effective system.
DIDO HARDING FACES FRESH CALLS TO BE SACKED
Baroness Dido Harding is facing calls to quit over repeated failures at test and trace
Business Minister Nadhim Zahawi has rushed to the aid of Baroness Dido Harding — the boss of England’s beleaguered test and trace system — amid mounting calls for her to step aside because the shambolic system keeps getting worse.
Mr Zahawi insisted the Conservative peer is ‘doing a very difficult job really well’ and working 19-hour days, seven days a week to ensure she stays on top of the virus.
‘I think she is doing a very difficult job really well,’ he said on Sky News. ‘I’ll tell you why because I sit on the local action committee goal where we go through the data on test and trace and how well the system is working.’
Stumbling over his words, he added: ‘I think Dido has led the team in an incredible way, she’s working seven days a week, 19-hour days. This is a joint effort by many, many, people to be commended who work with Dido and are delivering the test and trace system.’
The former head of TalkTalk, who is married to Conservative MP John Penrose, was appointed to run the so-called ‘world-beating’ test and trace system by Health Secretary Matt Hancock in May.
It is supposed to be a major weapon in the Government’s arsenal of anti-coronavirus measures because it is designed to halt an outbreak in its tracks.
But under her leadership the service has lurched from disaster to disaster, and last week registered another record-low performance.
They added: ‘Despite the failings of this largely private, highly centralised NHS Test and Trace system, it has been reported that the government intends to scale up testing to deliver weekly tests for the whole population.
‘Deloitte and a slew of commercial companies are being contracted to deliver them under Operation Moonshot, a plan to ramp up tests to 10 million a day, at a cost of 100 billion pounds – 70 per cent of the annual NHS budget for England.
‘Ten million tests a day will generate 10,000 people testing falsely positive a day and result in unnecessary isolation and hardship for them and their contacts.’
The test and trace system will ‘continue to be ineffective’ if it does not consider local public health and general practice expertise, the researchers added.
They conclude: ‘We call on the Westminster government to end privatisation of testing and to reinstate and invest in NHS primary care, public health, and NHS laboratory services, and redirect the resources from the current private testing programmes back into the local primary care, local NHS labs and local public health sector.’
Doctors have also called on the Government to divert the millions of pounds spent on the private firms behind the bungling NHS Test and Trace system to local health teams instead.
The group claim ministers have overlooked the proven ability of local health teams in containing disease outbreaks, in favour of a centralised approach reliant on private firms with costly contracts.
Regional public health workers are used to tracing people to warn them they may have a sexually transmitted disease, or eaten at a restaurant with a food poisoning outbreak.
But it was commercial companies such as Serco, Capita, Sitel and Deloitte that won contracts to help with building the test and trace system, which is performing worse every week.
A new commentary piece published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine calls for a ‘new strategy’ for the Test and Trace programme, which the experts claim would help fix a fragmented contact tracing system and boost its success.
They academics wrote: ‘We call on the Westminster government to end privatisation of testing… and redirect the resources from the current private testing programmes back into the local primary care, local NHS labs and local public health sector.’
In places where local health chiefs have taken the reigns, tracers have managed to reach nearly twice as many close contacts with a ‘boots on ground’ approach as call-handlers hired by the Government.
It comes amid fresh calls for the sacking of Baroness Dido Harding — the head of NHS Test and Trace and previously chief executive of the phone company TalkTalk.
Source: | This article originally belongs to Dailymail.co.uk