UK Gov’t Test-and-Trace System May Force Medical Workers to Self-Isolate, Health Officials Warn
The United Kingdom’s new track and tracing programme has officially been launched, with those who tested positive for COVID-19 now receiving messages asking for details about people they have recently been in contact with, to help identify new cases of the virus.
Fears have been voiced by health officials that thousands of care home and NHS staff might be forced to stay at home and self-isolate as a result of the Government’s test-and-trace programme, reported the Daily Mail.
Under the newly-launched scheme, anyone who has had close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 will receive a text message or email requesting them to stay at home for 14 days, even if they have no symptoms.
However, health officials are reportedly considering the idea of exempting some key workers from the process, recalling the situation at the height of the pandemic, when close to a quarter of NHS workers and care staff were self-isolating at some point.
Concerns have been raised with NHS England that situation might be repeated, gravely impacting the work of healthcare services.
Professor Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians, is quoted by the outlet as saying:
“Many services have struggled with staffing levels through the pandemic… and if significant numbers of NHS or care staff need to isolate, services will be affected.”
Urging swift clarity on the issue, Nick Ville, of the NHS Confederation said:
“We do not yet know whether there will be exemptions for NHS staff from the requirement to self-isolate under the test-and-trace programme… At this critical time, it is vital that we do not stop frontline staff from delivering care. These staff are operating in settings where effective infection control measures are already in place – but, clearly, if they do suffer COVID-like symptoms, they should self-isolate immediately.”
Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, shared his real concerns over implementation of the tracking-and-tracing programme. The official underscored the need for specific guidance for care homes, to rule out a situation when many staff might have to self-isolate, only exacerbating staffing problems in care homes.
Track-and-Trace ‘Teething Issues’
Earlier, as the United Kingdom’s new track and tracing programme was introduced in order for users to report symptoms in order to more effectively identify new cases of COVID-19, the National Health Service workers reported frustration on 29 May as they experience technical difficulties, including payment delays from the new scheme.
According to Sky News, some health service employees were unable to log into the new website for the tracing programme, or were receiving “critical incident” messages from the system.
A spokesperson for the Department for Health was cited as saying on Thursday that the system “has not crashed” and that anyone in the UK can log on and book a test if they have symptoms.
Complaints of technical “teething” issues had come in amid reports the system won’t be fully operational until the end of June.
Dido Harding just told me on an MPs’ conference call that Test, Trace & Isolate won’t be fully operational at local level till the end of June. Not sure where that leaves Johnson’s promise of a fully operational “world beating” system by Monday.#Covid19UK
— Ben Bradshaw (@BenPBradshaw) May 28, 2020
A smartphone app which would automatically alert people that they’ve been in contact with someone with coronavirus is still being trialled on the Isle of Wight; it was originally due to be rolled out nationwide in mid-May.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he was confident the “vast majority of people” would do their “civic duty” and follow the currently voluntary NHS test- and trace instructions.
Meanwhile, the test-and- trace system has been touted by officials as instrumental in stopping further outbreaks of the coronavirus disease amid an easing of the lockdown.
According to guidance published by SAGE, the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, “high-quality contact tracing would be needed” for schools to re-open and the public to return to work without the infection rate spiking.
SAGE also warned that data showed “only around 50 percent” of patients with coronavirus symptoms complied with orders to self-isolate for a week, and the “very effective” test-and-trace system was a prerequisite for lifting lockdown measures.