back to article Baroness Dido Harding lifts the lid on the NHS's manual contact tracing performance: 'We contact them up to 10 times over a 36-hour period'

Baroness Dido Harding of Winscombe, who is currently leading the UK’s coronavirus track-and-trace efforts, has shed light on the nation's human-driven contact-tracing efforts in a meeting of the Commons Science and Technology Select Committee. The tracing programme started on 28 May. Within the first month of the service’s …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    'We contact them up to 10 times over a 36-hour period'

    Taken directly from the Talk Talk hard sell training manual..

    1. Wellyboot Silver badge

      it's such a pity T-Ts helpdesk isn't that engaged!

      1. Marketing Hack Silver badge

        Helpdesk is a cost center, not a revenue center, hence the lower level of resources and responsiveness built into the offering.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Call them up with a problem though and you're put on hold listening to "born free" for the next 10 years.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The UK's chief stable door shutter.

    Is this really the best we can do?

    1. Wellyboot Silver badge

      Re: The UK's chief stable door shutter.

      Wanted: Figurehead to take responsibility for overseeing government attempt to solve pandemic contact tracking system. No chance of avoiding continuous detailed press & political criticism, high likelihood of being blamed for expected failure to reach targets so lacking any grasp on reality is a key role requirement.

      Dido seems eminently suited to the post.

      I rather hope there's someone who actually knows what they're doing in charge of the day-to-day stuff.

    2. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

      Re: The UK's chief stable door shutter.

      No, although it's probably the best the Tories can do.

      Several areas in Wales set up their own track and trace system very early on. Staffed by Council Environmental Health staff, been very, very effective.

      And "specially-trained contact centre workers" - does "reading a PDF" count as 'specially-trained'?

      1. katrinab Silver badge
        Meh

        Re: The UK's chief stable door shutter.

        Indeed it does.

        OCR's certificate in Life & Living Skills Entry Level 1, B1 Communication; is general training, dealing with general things like asking for directions to the bathroom.

        Specially trained means job specific training such as which buttons to press on the computer to get the phone number of the next person to call.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The UK's chief stable door shutter.

      She does know a lot about horses.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The UK's chief stable door shutter.

        Which is great if you are running a cowboy outfit.

    4. MyffyW Silver badge

      Re: The UK's chief stable door shutter.

      I'm not sure whether Dido Harding is the best we can do, but she's entirely in line with the C-Suite career laundering that seems to pass for meritocracy these days. It seems somebody makes a bit of a horlicks of leading something and a year or two later they pop-up in a similarly well-paid roll and are given another opportunity to "serve".

      In a more just society her penance for the Talk-Talk fiasco would have been obscure and worthy good deeds.

  3. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge
    FAIL

    Two out of three ain't bad

    Of 27,000 infected, 20,000 provided details of 153,000 people who needed to be contacted, of which about 132,345 were contacted.

    That suggests on average every person infected generates 7.65 contacts.

    If all 27,000 had provided 7.65 contacts; 206,550 need contacting.

    Overall they are contacting about 64% of all those who need contacting.

    About 36% who should be being contacted, haven't been contacted; 74,000 people.

    1. dajames Silver badge

      Re: Two out of three ain't bad

      If all 27,000 had provided 7.65 contacts; 206,550 need contacting.

      Unless, of course, some people were identified as contacts more than once ... which, given the nature of the exercise, seems more than likely.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Two out of three ain't bad

      "That suggests on average every person infected generates 7.65 contacts."

      Which is an order of magnitude greater than current estimate of R which in turn implies about 90% false positives which means about 120,000 or 240,000 utterly wasted weeks of self-isolation.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Two out of three ain't bad

        That's a slightly naive view. You are assuming 6ish of the 7 contacts are false positives, and think that their isolation is wasted. However if the one positive isolates they reduce the R to zero. If they don't they pass it on, and infect another person, so now we have gone from 2 to 3 cases. And they pass that on and in a few weeks you don't have 6 people 'needlessly' self isolating - you have 6 more ill people.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Two out of three ain't bad

          And you're assuming the one positive hasn't already infected dozens at the raves/pubs/seaside/Barnards Castle they attended prior to being contacted and going into isolation

      2. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

        Re: wasted

        It's only 'wasted' if you consider avoiding the possibility to infect others a waste of time. Only need to look at parts of the US e.g. Texas to see how that pans out.

    3. macjules Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Two out of three ain't bad

      Certainly if I received a call from someone saying "you have been in contact with someone with Coronavirus, we need you to give us the name and telephone number of every one of your friends, just in case you have passed it on to them" then my reaction would be along the lines of, "Sounds like Advanced Fee Fraud, is this NHS Lagos by any chance?"

  4. George Spiggott
    Facepalm

    Dildo (damn spellchecker) Harding brings her incompetence expertise to the NHS, lucky NHS.

    1. Mike Richards

      Now come on, without her expertise TalkTalk, Woolworths and Thomas Cook wouldn't be what they are today.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dido_Harding#Career

      1. LucreLout Silver badge

        Now come on, without her expertise TalkTalk, Woolworths and Thomas Cook wouldn't be what they are today.

        I wonder where her MBA came from.... I've not looked, but with a resume like that I can only presume she has one.

        1. sofaspud

          I mean it's right there in the link provided.

          "... and then at Harvard Business School, gaining an MBA."

          I suppose a Haaaavaaahd MBA is worth more than some others.

          1. John H Woods Silver badge

            I think it was Lunn University, back in the days when it was just Lunn Poly

  5. Inventor of the Marmite Laser Silver badge

    "up to 10 times"

    "Up to" starts at Zero.

    1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      10 times

      But if they manage to contact them on the first attempt, one would hope that they would not do the remaining 9 attempts...

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: 10 times

        No those are the very people you call back - it increases your call response metric on your quality goals toward achieving bonus levels

  6. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "the system presently doesn’t track whether an individual who has been warned to self-isolate ultimately contracts COVID-19."

    An absolutely basic metric not being collected.

    Just go and self-isolate for 2 weeks. We don't even want to know if we're wasting your time. We certainly don't want to know if we should be telling you to get tested instead. And did the Committee not challenge her on this? Surely even though they're MPs a Science & Technology Committee should have some inkling about this.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Not really, otherwise the government wouldn't have got away with this:

      UK calls halt to data on number of people tested for Covid-19

      After ‘temporary pause’ in publishing figure, government makes decision permanent

      So that's no app and (soon) no testing. Never mind, herd immunity will save us... or not.

      1. Chris G Silver badge

        I get the impression the UK government (and others) are relying on somebody eventually coming up with a vaccine that works and is hopefully affordable.

        In the meantime a cheap functional testing program in broad use would go a long way toward mitigating the spread of Covid19 as would some decent education of the masses.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          It doesn't even have to be that good. Cheap, quick, unlikely to generate false negatives but some false positives acceptable. All positive results go for a more expensive, slower but more definitive test.

          1. Medical Cynic

            Only if you use a blood-based test. Swabs may not reach the right bit of nasal/laryngeal mucosa. Not just the anterior nares.

      2. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

        @Dan

        The count of the number of tests being done was a meaningless number collected initially to show the government had achieved a target.

        The reason why it is meaningless is that it did not indicate the total number of prople tested, as some people, like NHS workers, will have been tested multiple times to make sure they remained free so they could continue to work safely.

        I don't believe that the articles actually say the tests were being stopped.

        Not testing everybody who has been traced does not make any sense, however. Especially as there is no guaranteed sick pay for the people they're telling to lose 2 weeks income. People who absolutely need the income will just ignore the warning unless they either show symptoms, or it becomes a criminal offense to not isolate.

        1. Dan 55 Silver badge

          Re: @Dan

          Everyone is being forced to put their trust in a centralised opaque testing regime, even local authorities and health agencies. Wales decided to set up its own testing in parallel to the UK's testing and as a result they were able to quickly react to hotspots, whereas England was unable to.

          With the data the public had, the testing was found to be wanting but instead of improving the testing and data, the government's reaction is to remove public access to it. Scrapping public access is a prelude to scrapping testing or reducing it to such an extent it becomes meaningless.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: @Dan

          "The count of the number of tests being done was a meaningless number collected initially to show the government had achieved a target"

          Especially when that count includes DIY kits posted out but not the number of resulting samples they got back... (or the number of those tests that were actually usable)

  7. thames

    Contact tracing is about far more than just tracing contacts.

    A couple of weeks ago I listened to a news interview with people involved in COVID-19 testing and tracing in Canada. The people actually involved in contact tracing saw an app as a "nice to have", but it wouldn't really replace any of the manual processes. Even with an app they would still need to get a list of where you had been and to speak with each of the contacts directly and give them the correct health and isolation advice tailored to their circumstances. Nobody has even attempted to automate this sort of thing, yet it forms the basis of most of the work that needs to be done.

    Also the public health workers would still want to talk to you to get a complete list of everywhere you had been and who you had been in contact with. It's not just about doing tests, they also need to collect this information in order to figure out where transmission is taking place so they can effectively tailor social distancing regulations to what the actual risks are on a very local basis. Tests are fine and dandy, but they amount to closing the barn door after the horse has bolted. If they can find out in what sort of local environments virus transmission is happening the public health officials can try to prevent it from repeating.

    A further problem is that having an app simply spamming low risk people with "get tested" messages threatens to effectively DDOS the testing system at times when it is more under load anyway. Judgement has to be applied when telling people whether get tested or to just stay home and self-isolate.

    The one thing that the public health specialists thought might actually help them is if there were an app continually running in the background which atuomatically kept a log of where you had been in the past two or three weeks. At present they want everyone to take a notebook and pencil with them and write down where they have been. Nobody is doing this of course, because the message just isn't getting to people. If the phone kept an automatic log, then you would just have to scroll through the list and you could tell them where you had been and when. If it couldn't geolocate your position precisely enough to tell you exactly which shop you had been in, just knowing roughly where you had been would be enough to jog your memory about a shop you had visited to pick up vacuum cleaner bags that you had forgotten about.

    In New Zealand I think the official app was going to let you read a bar code at each shop you visited in order to keep a log of your visits. This might be another way of dealing with it, but it requires more manual work and so is less reliable. It sounds far more useful than the Apple/Google approach though.

    The current crop of phone apps mostly seem to be about corona-washing products than about making a useful contribution to public health. It's about giving you a warm fuzzy feeling about your expensive lifestyle product rather than about protecting public health.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Contact tracing is about far more than just tracing contacts.

      A further problem is that having an app simply spamming low risk people with "get tested" messages threatens to effectively DDOS the testing system at times when it is more under load anyway.

      Clearly things are different in Canada. The approach here seems to be don't bother with testing, just tell people to self-isolate. After they've had a few false alarms people will just ignore it on an individual level and on the public level its reputation will plummet and the whole thing will end up being dropped.

      1. Captain Scarlet Silver badge

        Re: Contact tracing is about far more than just tracing contacts.

        I thought advice in the UK was only to get tested if required or self isolate.

        I managed to catch some form of bug from the supermarket (Where everyone has stopped social distancing and ignoring one way systems), test was booked (I am required to go to site if they need something turned off and on again) and I was there at the drive in test centre 30 minutes later. Very odd process but 3AM the next day I got the all clear (But still isolated + 2 days once symtoms went).

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    They haven't been reported the Numbers of Tests performed for 4 weeks

    ... and now they've given up pretending that they're trying to hide the other figures by stopping publishing them on Social Media.

    So presumably now they will be on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard.”

    How soon before revealing the numbers becomes a Crime under the Official Secrets Act ?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Really?

      You should have a look at https://coronavirus-staging.data.gov.uk/testing?areaType=overview&areaName=United%20Kingdom - this is a new interface, so that URL may get changed at some point.

      This does show that capacity is way above tests.

      1. Dan 55 Silver badge

        Re: Really?

        If you switch to the Daily Data tab it shows they are not publishing lab capacity any more.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Really?

          It does show "Testing capacity" though?

  9. Maelstorm

    Food for thought.

    I don't know how it is in the UK (I have read the news), but here in the US, and specifically New York, they are subpoenaing people who refuse to cooperate with the contact tracers. Those who still refuse to cooperate will have a $2,000/day fine levied at them. That should be illegal here, but they are doing it. Probably best if people leave New York.

    1. jtaylor

      Re: Food for thought.

      This is a highly contagious disease. People are dying. Of those who don't die, many have long-term health problems from the illness. There is no known cure.

      There are so very few opportunities in life to do something that clearly helps everyone, and even fewer that come at such little personal cost. For heaven's sake, just do your part.

  10. Andy Livingstone

    Tracing

    Does ANYONE answer unknown numbers that persist with calls?

  11. greenwood-IT
    Flame

    Damn numbers and facts.

    Don't get me started on "r" numbers (I believe r is a short for RAND() as it's somewhere between 0 and 1)

    Knowing that one person has reported positive, then surely knowing how many contacts they have had and how many of those became infected, would be a very accurate way of calculating a more accurate r value? It seems so bloody obvious compared with the current dozen committees who vote on a random number that they then seem to average before saying it's somewhere between 0.5 and 0.999 but less than 1.

    1. Cuddles Silver badge

      Re: Damn numbers and facts.

      "I believe r is a short for RAND() as it's somewhere between 0 and 1"

      No, it's somewhere between 0 and infinity. The goal is to keep it less than one because that means the disease isn't spreading exponentially.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Damn numbers and facts.

        Don't exaggerate it's upper bound can't be much over 7.8 x 10^9.

        1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

          Re: Damn numbers and facts.

          Unless you can catch it from your pets, or tomorrow's lunch.

      2. Dan 55 Silver badge

        Re: Damn numbers and facts.

        I think that was precisely the other poster's point, albeit expressed somewhat cynically given the government's handling of the crisis to date.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I know a contact tracer. No relevant prior experience (e.g. medical or call centre). It was a good arrangement for him, (otherwise unemployed), £10 an hour, work from home. After about 6 weeks he reported: utter shambles, loads of organisational zoom meetings, training where the tutors acknowledged "a lack of clarity" and a total of two actual tracing candidates processed. Now his zero-hours contract has contracted.

    Another who applied 3 or 4 days later, (first aid qualified, call centre & customer service experience), same day phone interview and acceptance has heard nothing since, no work, no contact. He called to enquire and yes he's on the list but no training, no work, (and of course no pay, I assume Dido & Serco have a slightly better deal...)

  13. Chris the bean counter Bronze badge

    Ash for Contact details of next of Kin when doing a test

    simples

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    10 times a day

    probably from a withheld number. Can see that call being rejected. That's no different than Vodaphone constantly ringing to the point that the number is blocked

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wonder when Dido will raise the "White Flag". She wants everyone to "Don't Leave Home" while their heads "Feels Like Fire" until they are "Feelin Good". 10 calls in 36 hours is "One Step Too Far" when people might just want "Quiet Times".

    "Thank You", "Let Us Move On".

    (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_songs_recorded_by_Dido)

  16. Mike Richards

    “We contact them up to 10 times over a 36-hour period."

    Gosh, that's nearly as many calls as the scammers who benefitted from Harding's time at TalkTalk.

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