How the latest fiasco hit the UK’s Test and Trace system

Labour MP for Nottingham North, Alex Norris, who is also a shadow health minister said: “The Government’s latest data blunder means it’s hard to get a true read on Covid-19 in Nottingham.

“However, it’s clear that infection rates are increasing. When rates increase, so do restrictions, and if we want to avoid a local lockdown it’s critical we follow the guidance, the ‘rule of six’ and social distance.”

Sheffield has also seen 1,363 new cases added to its numbers, meaning there are now 233 weekly infections per 100,000 residents. Sheffield University has also confirmed 474 students and five members of staff have tested positive.

Sheffield Council warned that further restrictions are “not out of the question”. 

Other student-heavy cities, such as Leeds, Exeter and Oxford have also seen big rises and could soon see tougher restrictions. 

An ‘absolute scandal’

Dr Duncan Robertson, lecturer in management sciences and analytics at Loughborough University and fellow of St Catherine’s College, Oxford, said the error was “an absolute scandal” and warned that many people could have spread the virus unknowingly.

Experts said the error could have substantial knock-on effects as those who were not asked to self-isolate may have infected others.

Prof Rowland Kao, Professor of Veterinary Epidemiology and Data Science, at the  University of Edinburgh, said: “All those individuals with positive results that were not entered into the system have contacts who remained an infection risk to others over this period, and so we can expect that they will have already contributed extra infections which we shall see over the coming week or so.  

“While it appears they are now being contacted as a matter of priority, this additional strain on a system already stretched to its limit implies that further delays are likely to occur for other cases where contact tracing is needed.  

Tracking Covid: the leaders of Britain’s botched systems 

Michael Brodie, interim chief executive, Public Health England

Michael Brodie was appointed as interim chief executive of Public Health England in August, after ministers announced that the organisation will be scrapped. 

The civil servant had been working at PHE since it was created in 2013, as its finance and commercial director, before that working for the NHS and local government. 

When he was given the job, he said he would head up PHE “as we transition to the next phase of the evolution of the public health system”.

Under the plans, PHE will be subsumed into a new National Institute for Health Protection, modelled on Germany’s Robert Koch Institute.

The health body had already come under fire for many aspects of its handling of the pandemic, including the failure to roll out community testing, and its recording of deaths data. 

Dr Susan Hopkins, Test and Trace and PHE joint medical advisor 

Dr Hopkins is the only medic on the Test and Trace executive team, as well as holding a role advising PHE.

When Public Health England finally admitted that the data fiasco involved almost 16,000 positive Covid-19 cases, it was she who admitted that this meant thousands were only transferred to contact tracers this weekend.

In July, she came out to defend PHE when it was widely criticised for its data recording methods, which meant anyone who was ever infected with coronavirus and later died was counted as a Covid-19 death. 

Baroness Dido Harding, executive chairman Test and Trace, and interim executive chair of the Government’s new National Institute for Health Protection

Baroness Harding was chief executive of communications provider TalkTalk in 2015 when 157,000 of its customers had their data stolen. 

As head of NHS Test and Trace, she has faced repeated criticism, drawing derision last month for claims that no-one had expected to see the surge in pressures on testing services when schools returned. 

Baroness Harding has been appointed interim executive chairman of the body which will replace PHE, and even tipped as a possible future head of the NHS. 

Although the data fiasco involved the transfer of files between PHE and NHS Test and Trace, the responsibility has landed squarely on PHE, because its systems capped the amount of data which was transferred. 

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