UNISON calls for urgent action to improve chaotic track & trace in England

Evidence published on 4 August shows that England’s privately-run test and trace system is unlikely to prevent a second wave of COVID-19.

UNISON has labelled the system ‘a mess’ and warned that councils, who are already under significant financial strain due to years of austerity and now the COVID-19 response, are being forced to pick up the pieces.

The ineffective test and trace system, alongside the opening of schools and the wider return to the workplace, could lead to a damaging second spike in the virus.

Researchers at UCL and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) have modelled what may happen when schools reopen and some parents return to the workplace.

In order to avoid a second wave, we need a system that is able to consistently contact 70% or more of those who may have been infected.

However, the private companies that the government has awarded the £10bn contact tracing system to are reportedly only contacting approximately 50% of people who may have been infected.

The system has already been labelled “chaotic” and “a complete shambles” in recent months.

Researchers state that, without an effective and integrated contact tracing and isolation programme, there could be a second wave of COVID-19 more than twice as large as the first.

With local lockdowns and local spikes in infection rates, councils are taking matters into their own hands to ensure that their residents are contacted. Local authority staff in Blackburn, Greater Manchester, Liverpool and Leicester are now contacting people where the national contracted-out system has failed.

A study in June showed that local health protection teams are able to contact 90% of those identified.

UNISON believes that the following three measures must be urgently set in place to make sure that schools, and all other workplaces are safe:

  • A robust and functioning, fully integrated testing, contact tracing and isolation system
  • That these systems should be carried out by an accountable and well-resourced public sector
  • That employees should not suffer financially whilst self-isolating, when ill with or recovering from COVID-19. Without this, many individuals will not be able to isolate for the required period of time without being pushed into poverty.

UNISON assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said: “We all want schools to reopen, and to reopen safely. We all want safe places for young people to learn in and staff to work in.”

“The current system in England is a mess. Billions of tax payers’ money has already been spent on a system that can’t deliver and now cash-strapped councils are being forced to pick up the pieces.”