NHS Test and Trace budget now bigger than police and fire combined

23 November 2020, 18:43

Billions more funding is being poured into Test and Trace
Billions more funding is being poured into Test and Trace. Picture: PA

By Ewan Somerville

The NHS Test and Trace budget has risen to £22 billion, making it bigger than the police and fire service funding combined.

The UK testing and contact tracing service has been offered an extra £7 billion for this financial year in the Government's Covid Winter Plan.

By comparison, the amount of funding given to the police and fire service for 2020/21 is £15.2 billion and £3 billion, respectively.

It came as Boris Johnson announced plans to introduce mass community testing for six weeks in regions subject to the most stringent Tier Three restrictions after England's second lockdown ends on 2 December.

Under the new tiered system, the Prime Minister also pledged twice-weekly tests for two visitors for care home residents by the end of the year, and weekly tests for care workers looking after people in their own homes.

From next month, ministers also plan weekly tests for prison staff, food manufacturers and those delivering and administering Covid vaccines.

Read more: The new tier 1, 2 and 3 rules after England lockdown

The England NHS contact tracing app
The England NHS contact tracing app. Picture: PA

But the latest official statistics show NHS Test and Trace is still missing 123,000 people a week who are identified as close contacts of those infected with Covid-19.

Just 60.5 per cent of close contacts in England were reached in the week between 5 and 11 November, the most recent data available.

Mr Johnson told the House of Commons from self-isolation on Monday: “We will use daily testing to ease another restriction that has impinged on many lives.

“We will seek to end automatic isolation of close contacts of those found positive.

“Beginning in Liverpool later this week, contacts who are tested every day for a week will only need to isolate if they themselves test positive.

Read more: Outdoor sports stadiums allowed 4,000 spectators when lockdown ends

“If successful this approach will be extended across the health system next month and to the whole of England from January.

“We are of course working with the devolved administrations to ensure that Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland also benefit from these advances in rapid testing.”

Mr Johnson said that the rapid turnaround tests, which give results in 30 minutes, are being deployed in the NHS and care homes. This would mean “people will once again be able to to hug and hold hands with loved ones instead of waving at them through a window,” he said.

He added that testing will also allow students to go home safely for Christmas.

The Government said that, as of 9am on Monday, there had been a further 15,450 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK. It brings the total number of cases in the UK to 1,527,495.

For in-person test routes, the median time taken to receive a test result remains at 25 to 29 hours. There are nearly 680 testing sites across England, including more than 300 local walk-in centres.

Last week the Government said two new “megalabs” would increase testing capacity by a further 600,000 in early 2021, meaning faster turnaround times for test results.