'Critical incident' as test and trace suffers technical problems on launch

28 May 2020, 12:31 | Updated: 28 May 2020, 12:36

Matt Hancock today laughed off suggestions the system had been brought in too soon
Matt Hancock today laughed off suggestions the system had been brought in too soon. Picture: Sky News
Rachael Venables

By Rachael Venables

Doctors and staff on the government's new test and trace scheme have reported significant technical problems saying they have been unable to start work on the scheme's launch day.

Track and trace workers told LBC News that they have not been able to start work on launch day because of technical problems including systems crashing, and others who say they have not yet been sent the login details they need to start work.

One clinician said this morning that he has been unable to launch the online system that he needs to do his job. Another recently hired tracer said that she had been having 'system issues' and she was unable to begin work as well.

Workers were told as late as 10.30pm last night that the programme was launching today and they would need to start work from 8am this morning. The first worker LBC spoke to said he had been trying to log in to systems all night, but it would not load and the page kept crashing.

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He also said he still hasn’t received his login details and passwords to be able to sign in, despite being ready for a shift that was meant to start at 8am.

The contact tracers were only told the system was going live today in an email at 10.30 last night - a few hours after Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock made the announcement.

The technical problems are being dealt with as a 'critical incident'
The technical problems are being dealt with as a 'critical incident'. Picture: Social Media

The second contact tracer who spoke to LBC this morning said she had a response via webchat to say the “link is having "some system issues " and they are working with partners to rectify it.”

The Contact Tracing and Advisory Service told workers the problem with the test and trace website has been reported as a “critical incident”.

This morning Matt Hancock laughed off suggestions the government had rushed out the scheme too quickly. He told Sky News the suggestion was “priceless,” saying “I’m usually accused of delaying these things and bringing them in too slowly.”

“We’ve brought it in at just the right speed.”

A DHSC spokesperson said the system had not crashed, saying "anyone in the country can log on and book a test if they have symptoms and we have tracers logged on to do their vital work to help stop the spread of coronavirus and save lives. “

“As with all large scale operations of this kind, some staff did initially encounter issues logging on to their systems and these are rapidly being resolved,” the spokesperson added.

NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson warned "very key bits" of the Government's test and trace strategy are not yet in place.

NHS Test and Trace will officially launch across England on Thursday with the help of 25,000 contact tracers, although an accompanying app is still delayed by several weeks.

Mr Hopson said he was pleased the Government had watered down claims it had a "world class" test and trace system ready to start from June 1, "because we clearly don't".

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But he said Thursday would bring significant change to the country's test and trace capabilities.

"There will be a group of contact tracers who will be ready (Thursday) morning but there are still very key bits of test and trace that still need to be built."

Mr Hopson said the speed of testing needed to be improved, comparing international standards of having tests back within 24 hours with reports of tests taking up to three to five days, as well as referencing the need to provide support locally.

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He said last night: "Can I just give a very clear public health message, which is that everybody who's watching the programme should ensure that they understand what their responsibilities are because things are going to change from nine o'clock tomorrow morning."

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has urged the public to carry out their "civic duty" and make the new test and trace system work - saying the only other option is continuing the lockdown.

Mr Hancock told Wednesday's press briefing: "The big question that we're all working to answer is this: until an effective treatment or vaccine comes through how can we get back to doing more of the things that make life worth living without risking safety or putting lives at risk?

"NHS Test and Trace is a big part - not the only part - but a big part of the answer to that question."

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