Plans to test 10 million people a day could see tens of thousands of people self-isolating needlessly, experts have said. It comes as head of the the system, Dido Harding has come under increasing pressure to step down from her role.
Plans being developed under Operation Moonshot will reportedly see 10 million people tested every day at a cost of £100 billion.
But academics have said that under the plans around 10,000 people could receive a false positive each day.
This will result in “unnecessary isolation and hardship” for these people and their contacts, they said.
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.
The system, headed by former TalkTalk boss Baroness Harding, has come under significant scrutiny.
And now academics from the universities of Glasgow, St Andrews and Newcastle have said: “A new strategy is required, with clinical input, clinical oversight and integration into local primary care and public health systems”.
They claim that the decision to separate local public health departments and GP systems from the private sector testing system may have led to “delayed outbreak control”.
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.
“This resulted in poor community data which is likely to have delayed outbreak control.”
On Operation Moonshot 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% 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.”
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.
In the week ending October 14, only 15.1% of people in England who were tested for Covid-19 at a regional site, local site or mobile testing unit – a so-called in-person test – received their result within a day.
This is down from 32.8% in the previous week and is the lowest weekly
percentage since Test and Trace began.
The data also shows that the proportion of close contacts reached after someone tested positive dropped to 59.6%.
This is the lowest weekly percentage since Test and Trace began and is down from 63% in the previous week.
For cases handled by local health protection teams, 94.8% of contacts were reached and asked to self-isolate in the week to October 14.