Up to 8,000 contact tracers are to be axed by Test and Trace

Test and Trace will axe 8,000 contact tracers – a third of its workforce – in spring shakeup ‘because Covid cases have plunged so much’

  • Test and Trace will slash its workforce by about a third, a leaked email reveals
  • Emma Moore, its director, said they were aiming to get staffing to summer levels
  • Data shows the number of cases transferred to tracers has fallen by 90 per cent 

Up to 8,000 contact tracers are to be axed by Test and Trace because there are too few coronavirus cases being transferred to the system.

The cut was revealed in a leaked internal email sent to the 22,000-strong workforce, which said the service needed to de-escalate from its winter high.

Emma Moore, a senior T&T boss, told employees in a message seen by the Health Services Journal they expected to slash staffing levels to those it maintained last summer, when infection rates were very low. 

She said: ‘We need to reduce our capacity while retaining the right skills and our ability to ramp up again to ensure we are able to respond to any potential future demand.’

Department of Health statistics show the number of positive cases handed over to tracers has plunged by more than 90 per cent since January, from a high of 380,000 in the first week of January to just 44,508 in the most recent week. 

Test and Trace — purposely set up to contain Covid — has been repeatedly blasted as a ‘waste of money’ for failing to prevent lockdowns. 

British taxpayers will have forked out more than £37billion on the system by the end of this year, despite mounting criticism of the scheme. 

Up to 8,000 contact tracers will lose their jobs as the service slashes staffing by a third. (Pictured: A testing site in Brentwood, England, where a swab is handed over for testing)

Test and Trace has seen the number of positive cases transferred to the system drop by more than 90 per cent from the peak in January, official data has revealed

The total number of cases transferred to the system has dropped considerably from the peak

The former head of the Government’s Treasury branded NHS Test and Trace the ‘most wasteful and inept public spending programme of all time’ last week.

Sir Nicholas Macpherson, a member of the House of Lords and former permanent secretary to Downing Street’s finance department, has waded into the row over the system after a scathing report last night said it was having ‘no measurable effect’ on curbing Covid cases.

Sir Nicholas posted a cutting tweet that added: ‘The extraordinary thing is that nobody in the government seems surprised or shocked. No matter: the BoE will just print more money.’

Test and Trace boss Dido Harding, Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock all jumped to the service’s defence today, calling Test and Trace ‘essential’ in the wake of the report.

The trio joined Transport Secretary Grant Shapps in justifying the £22billion Test and Trace programme. 

The leaked email was sent by Ms Moore, the former Border Force boss who was accused of causing massive delays at Heathrow by splitting the workforce into ‘rigid and inflexible’ bubbles.

In the memo, she said: ‘Case rates are now at around 7,000 a day.

‘And whilst we are constantly reviewing requirements based on the situation, this means we need to reduce our capacity whilst retaining the right skills and our ability to ramp up again to ensure we are able to respond to any potential future demand.

‘In terms of numbers, this means we have seen an increase from around 14,000 colleagues in the summer last year to around 22,000 to support the winter peak. 

‘Based on current data and forecasts, we expect to reduce our workforce back down to around 14,000 over the coming months.’

She added that the service was ‘committed’ to give employees losing their jobs at least one week’s notice.

‘I appreciate this may not give you the level of certainty you need, but I hope you understand our need to be a flexible service to enable us to respond effectively to changes in prevalence of the virus,’ she said.

Test and Trace weekly reports show the number of cases transferred to the system has plunged by almost 90 per cent since the darkest days of January.

There were just 44,508 positive cases handed to the service for tracing in the week to March 3, the latest available. 

For comparison, more than 380,000 were handed over in the week to January 6 at the height of the second wave.

And the number of close contacts — those near someone before they tested positive — has also more than halved since the peak of the second wave.

Data showed there was a high of 341,615 contacts identified in the first week of January, but this had fallen to 39,435 in the first week of March. 

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: ‘Just as we increased numbers working in the trace service to be able to respond to forecasted demand over the winter, we are responding to the reduction in case numbers we’ve seen since Christmas.

‘Latest figures show NHS Test and Trace has successfully reached 93.5 per cent of the contacts of positive cases, making a real impact in breaking chains of transmission.

‘So far, more than 9.2 million cases and contacts have been reached and told to self-isolate by contact tracers – people who might otherwise have gone on to unknowingly spread the virus. Everyone involved in the tracing service should be hugely proud of this.’ 

Britain’s Covid cases have risen eight per cent compared to the same time last week after 5,089 were recorded. It is thought this is linked to mass swabbing in schools, which is picking up more cases. The test positivity rate – a more reliable measure – is still falling in all regions

There were also 64 Covid deaths recorded today, which is down 1.5 per cent on the same time last week

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