Matt Hancock gets test and trace figures wrong again

9th Sep 2020

Claim

Nationally, only 69.4% of contacts are now reached and asked to self-isolate.

Conclusion

Correct. The latest data from NHS Test and Trace shows that of all positive cases referred to the system, 81.4% were reached. Close contacts were identified for 80.2% of those cases. Of those identified close contacts, 69.4% were reached.

“[Referring to the performance of NHS Test and Trace in England] Nationally, only 69.4% of contacts are now reached and asked to self-isolate.” 

Jonathan Ashworth MP, 8 September 2020

“I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman got into a bit of a muddle on contact tracing, saying that under 70% of contacts are traced. That is simply untrue and below the number that we publish weekly—we published the latest figure last Thursday.”

Matt Hancock, health secretary, 8 September 2020

In parliament yesterday the health secretary and the shadow health secretary clashed over the performance of NHS Test and Trace in England. 

Jonathan Ashworth MP claimed that only 69.4% of identified contacts are now reached and asked to self-isolate, which Matt Hancock disagreed with. 

Mr Ashworth was right. The data (which was published on Thursday 3 September, that day Mr Hancock referred to) shows that 69.4% of identified contacts of people who had tested positive for Covid-19 were reached by the service between 20 August and 26 August.

This number has fallen over time which, as we have explained in a previous piece, is largely down to how the NHS Test and Trace system has changed since its inception.  

Back then, the Department of Health and Social Care said this was because in the first few weeks of the service, a large number of cases were deemed as “complex” meaning they were linked to an infectious person visiting a place like a school, prison or hospital. These were managed by local health protection teams who “have a higher success rate than those [non-complex cases] dealt with by contact tracers.”

It’s also worth putting that 69.4% figure in context, because it refers only to close contacts identified by the tracing system, not all the actual close contacts that people with positive tests may have had. 

In the latest week’s data, of all positive cases referred into the contact tracing system, 81.4% of people were reached. 

Close contacts were identified for 80.2% of those cases. In some cases people who have tested positive may genuinely not have come into close contact with anyone else recently, so even in an ideal world you wouldn’t necessarily expect this figure to be at 100%.

Of those close contacts who were identified, 69.4% were reached. That’s down from 77.1% in the previous week.

This isn’t the first time Mr Hancock has mis-stated the test and trace statistics in parliament.