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Test and trace blunder blamed for 32% drop in Covid app test results

A cost-saving blunder by the government’s Test and Trace service has triggered a 32 per cent drop in positive Covid test results entered into the Covid-19 app, The Independent has learned.

Sources say the mistake has undermined the app’s core function and means thousands of potential close contacts who were at risk of infection were not identified or pinged during the week to 6 October.

Almost 19,000 fewer positive tests were put into the app by patients since September 29, after officials at NHS Direct condensed information for patients into a single text, with instructions to enter the positive test result near the bottom of a single long message.

The change was made to save on costs by cutting the number of SMS messages being sent to patients.

The Covid-19 Test and Trace app uses the positive test result to check the location of the user and alert any people nearby who may be at risk of infection with a text.

While less of a risk, the number of negative test results entered into the app between 29 September and 6 October also dropped by almost half from 162,000 to 87,499.

A source close to the Test and Trace operation told The Independent: “This change was made to save money, by reducing the number of text messages sent to people. But the unintended consequence was that people didn’t see the important code in a very long text message and meant they probably didn’t enter their positive test code in the app.

“This has undermined the functionality of the app and means it isn’t able to do the job it was designed to do effectively.”

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Data for test results entered into the Covid-19 app show a significant drop in the latest week

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It comes after 43,000 people may have been wrongly received negative PCR test results when they were infected with the virus since the start of September, caused by errors in a private lab which has since been suspended by Test and Trace.

Overall Covid infections across the UK are rising with around 1 million infections in the latest weekly survey by the Office for National Statistics.

Officials at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) spotted the drop in positive test uploads to the app and changes have been made to the text messages to move the instructions nearer the start of the message.

The changes are being monitored to assess their impact.

A spokesperson for the UKHSA said: “We keep our communication under constant review. Anyone who tests positive for coronavirus should enter their results code into the app to notify others that they may be at risk.”


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