A group of medical professionals in Sheffield have set up a Community Contact Tracers (CCT) scheme  in response to the inefficiencies of the NHS test and trace system. 

The team aims to trace contacts of somebody experiencing Covid-19 symptoms within 24 hours of them being reported. Sheffield CCT felt that the current test and trace system was not good enough as it only begins contact tracing once the test swab comes back positive. This means that there is currently a three to seven day window in which a person may be infected but their immediate contacts are not told to quarantine, so the disease can be spread to others unknowingly.

Thivakar Srikandakumar, a medical student at the University of Sheffield who is working alongside Sheffield Community Contact Tracers explained that since the pilot study carried out in June “we have redesigned our website, increased awareness through posters and webinars of the use of the study and are looking forward to having more participants take part.”

Dr Bing Jones, a retired haematology doctor who is part of the CCT team, added:

“We are now working face to face on the street with community groups and actively going out to find cases within seldom-heard communities and those most reluctant to be tested, which is key to managing outbreaks.”

“The UK has done badly in managing this epidemic. Our government has failed to make NHS Test and Trace work effectively. Mass testing is unevaluated and may make things worse not better. 

CCT believes that more localised tracing systems are more effective, such as the University of Sheffield’s tracing system. Skirandakumar said: “It is a good start but the early contact tracing needs to start as soon as symptoms present and on a national scale.”

Dr Jones also praised the University’s system for offering support to those self-isolating, an essential aspect he said was “mostly missing” from NHS Test and Trace. 

“One key aspect of Contact Tracing is the time taken between onset of symptoms and effective isolation. Our same day symptom-based system is speedy. The NHS Test and Trace is very slow.”

Sheffield CCT also highlighted the limitations of using mass testing and implementation of a ‘travel window’ to allow students to return home for Christmas, due to the possibility of false positive and false negative results as well as the chance students will get infected on the train home. 

Dr Jones said to Forge Press:

“False negatives [of lateral flow tests] can be up to 50%. There are substantial risks of reassuring someone with a false negative result, but they will still be infectious. 

“Many specialists are extremely concerned that there will be a major increase in infections after Christmas. 

“Staggering student travel over a short period is unlikely to reduce much of the risk, however it’s good to see that infection rates are reducing in the student body.”

 

Image: Anton Silins

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