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

Test and trace blunder blamed for 32% drop in Covid app test results
Exclusive: ‘This has undermined the functionality of the app and means it isn’t able to do the job it was designed to do effectively’

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 mean 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 loaded to the app by patients since September 29, after officials at NHS Direct condensed information for patients into a single text message, with instructions to enter the positive test result near the bottom of a single long message.

This change was made to cut the number of SMS messages being sent by Test and Trace to help save on costs.

The Covid-19 app uses the positive test result to check the location of the user and any nearby phones of people who may be at risk of infection. They then receive an alert and are told to self-isolate to break the chain of transmission.

Insider believe the change was a mistake that did not appreciate the impact it could have if people fail to act on the prompt to add their test result to the app.

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

A source close to the operation of Test and Trace 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.”

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

It comes after 43,000 people were wrongly given a negative PCR test result when they were actually infected with Covid-19 since the start of September after errors by a private lab which has since been suspended by Test and Trace.

Overall Covid infections across the UK are rising with around one million infections in the latest weekly survey by the ONS on Friday, with around one in 10 children infected.

Officials at the UK Health Security Agency spotted the drop in positive test uploads to the app and changes have been made to the text messages to move the instructions further up the text.

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.”