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Medicine 2021: NHS Test and Trace – the next phase

On day 1 of the Medicine 2021 conference, Baroness Dido Harding, interim chair of the new National Institute for Health Protection, spoke about the next phase for the NHS Test and Trace service.

Baroness Harding began with an overview of some of the milestones achieved so far in testing and tracing people with COVID-19. These have been achieved in partnership with health and public sector providers and include:

  • establishing over 700 testing sites
  • creating an NHS app, now downloaded over 20 million times
  • reducing the R number by 0.3–0.6 (prior to the new variant).

She went on to say that she sees Test and Trace as the second line of defence against the virus in order to break its transmission, with the first line being people’s behaviour in social distancing, wearing masks and washing their hands. Testing has grown rapidly in the UK and we now carry out more tests per 100k population than many other countries including Canada, USA and Germany and Italy.

Baroness Harding then outlined the priorities for Test and Trace for the next 3 months. By March the target is to reduce the R number by 0.5–0.7 or 0.6–0.8 in high prevalence areas. Over 40 million tests for NHS staff have now been delivered and this is a key area of focus; many people in frontline clinical roles have tested positive with no symptoms – identifying this early is crucial. NHS Test and Trace is also working closely with pathology labs, PHE and MHRA to understand the impact of new and emerging variants on testing methods and to keep evolving our technologies.

Baroness Harding concluded by saying that even as the vaccine rolls out we will need to continue with testing and tracing for some considerable time to come. She ended by thanking everyone in the health sector for their enormous contribution and work in tackling COVID-19.

Following her presentation, RCP president Professor Andrew Goddard put some questions from physicians to Baroness Harding. These included whether there is any way of estimating how many people actually self-isolate when told to do so, whether capacity will impact on our ability to contact trace as the number of positive tests increases, and whether the app will be enabled to be used for hospital testing.

Inspired to find out more? Our annual conference is virtual this year and you can sign up to Medicine 2021 to watch the full presentation.

We’ve extended on-demand access to all conference content until the end of April 2021. You can gain up to 16 CPD points until 7 February 2021. Thereafter you will be able to self-accredit as independent learning.