Thank you for contacting me about the Test and Trace system.
NHS Test and Trace is essential in our fight against COVID-19 and regular testing is a vital tool to stop transmission as we cautiously ease restrictions. I am extremely proud of the fact that, after building a testing system from scratch, we have carried out over 175 million coronavirus tests and have increased PCR test capacity to over 600,000 per day. This is more than any other comparable European country, with the UK having the largest testing capacity in Europe.
Protecting communities and saving lives is the Government's first priority and every pound spent on Test and Trace is contributing towards efforts to keep people safe. I firmly support the Government’s decision to spend £22 billion on this crucial service during 2020-21, with a further £15 billion budgeted for 2021-22. 80 per cent of NHS Test and Trace’s budget is spent on buying and carrying out coronavirus tests, with the remainder spent on contact tracing and other areas of the programme It is also worth highlighting that while the NHS App is playing a key role, it is only one part of the wider NHS Test and Trace system. The NAO estimated that as of October 2020 the spend on the App was around £43 million.
The Government is now providing regular rapid testing for NHS and care home staff, thousands of businesses where employees cannot work from home, teachers and secondary school children and their parents. Regular rapid testing identifies new cases of the virus we would not otherwise find, preventing the spread of the disease and saving lives.
NHS Test and Trace is successfully reaching over 90 per cent of the contacts of positive cases - with 98 per cent being contacted within 24 hours, and the contact tracing service has already reached more than 9.1m cases and contacts, making a real impact in breaking chains of transmission.
I absolutely agree that it is vital data is shared with local authorities as quickly as possible, particularly as we move forward with the easing of restrictions in the Government's Roadmap and as we work to prevent the spread of new variants. The Department for Health and Social Care has outlined that granular data is being made available to specialist teams through local dashboards, and that this service has been expanded to provide more data for local areas.
Testing and NHS Test and Trace services are being provided through the NHS, and while it is true that providers like Serco and Sitel are working with the public sector to deliver these services, I am confident that these providers will be held to the highest standards to ensure that the best service possible is delivered. It is a testament to the ingenuity of British businesses that they have been able to adapt existing resources in a time of great need for the country, and I am extremely grateful to all organisations that have offered their services at this time.
I understand that all 314 local authorities have joined forces with NHS Test and Trace to provide an enhanced contact tracing service, enabling NHS Test and Trace to go further in supporting people who have tested positive for Covid-19 and tracing their recent contacts. Together, they are successfully reaching 88.9 per cent of people who’ve tested positive for coronavirus and 88.8 per cent of their close contacts A series of pilot schemes, known as "Local-0", are ongoing and I know that the DHSC is monitoring these closely. The initiative supports local authorities to contact positive cases faster by bringing them in right from the start of the tracing journey, at the same time the case is entered into the national NHS Test and Trace system. I look forward to learning more about the outcome of these pilots Alongside this work, however, I do see a continuing value in the national Test and Trace system which has a built in resilience that councils may be unable to replicate if cases were to increase.
I was delighted to learn that the NHS Test and Trace app was launched across England and Wales in September. This is a significant achievement, and I congratulate all who have been involved in this process. I would encourage you to download the app, if you have a smartphone, and to scan NHS Test and Trace QR codes which will be displayed in businesses and venues across the country, making it much easier for you to be notified in the event of an outbreak. I recognise concerns about accessing the app on much older versions of smartphones. However, I understand it is not uncommon for apps to be made compatible with the latest available software to minimise the risk of glitches, which is particularly important in this case. Handsets must have Android 6.0, which was released in 2015, or iOS 13.5, which was released in May 2020, as well as Bluetooth 4.0, which was launched in 2010.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.