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Testing Without A Trace: My experience

For me, Covid ‘Test and Trace’ was a tick-box exercise, with no regard for my health, my compliance or even my whereabouts. Why has this service been outsourced?

Annie Spratt (Unsplash)

I recently travelled to an ‘amber’ country and was required to quarantine for ten days on my return. The experience has left me exasperated with the ineffectiveness of the service, its costs and the way outsourcing is being presented as NHS provision.

I bought five PCR tests in total – four from Boots in UK totalling £360 and one in Greece for 50€. I had to produce evidence of my ‘at home’ PCR tests for day 2 and day 8 of quarantine in order to return home. I also purchased a day 5 test in the hope that it would be negative and I could end my quarantine on day 6.

On day 1, I received a call from NHS Test and Trace. I was unable to tell what the caller was saying, due to the quality of the line and his very thick accent. I said, “I’m sorry I can’t tell what you are saying,” and hung up, expecting them to ring back. They didn’t.

On days 2 and 3, my wife got calls on her mobile asking if she was me. She passed the phone to me and we asked them to correct their records. The caller asked me to confirm my name and date of birth, then read out a list of quarantine rules and asked me to confirm that I understood them. End of call. I completed my home PCR test and posted it. I was not asked if I had completed my day 2 test.

On day 4, my negative result from day 2 arrived by email from Boots and I had another call from Test and Trace, who read out the same script. I asked if they had the result of my day 2 test. They said that was not their role.

On day 5, I travelled to Boots in Doncaster for the nearest available PCR test. Why, when I was required to stay at home, and when home testing was available? Another call from Test and Trace, reading out the same script. I said I assumed that if this test was negative, they would not call again, but I was told they would be calling daily as their role still applied, even if I had a negative test.

I received a negative test result by email on day 6 and a missed call on my mobile from Test and Trace. No further calls. My quarantine was over. I completed my day 8 home PCR test and was notified of a negative PCR result by email on day 10.

There was never any discussion regarding my health (did I have symptoms?), my whereabouts (was I actually at home?), or any factors which may make it difficult for me to comply with quarantine, such as shopping, caring responsibilities, mental health or financial pressures to work. There was no advice or encouragement to cooperate in terms of the benefits and the need for quarantine to be completed – for example, the current prevalence in my area, NHS pressures or medical risks to myself or others.

I asked the caller which organisation they were working for and was told ‘NHS Test and Trace’. I pressed for the name of their employer and was eventually told it was the SITEL Group. A quick Google tells me "SITEL is a privately owned contact center company headquartered in Miami, Florida", with a specialism in "customer experience management". I could find no reference to Test and Trace on their website.

Why was I not required to attend NHS testing services on days 2, 5 and 8? I had to leave my home to be tested on day 5. It’s also normal for symptomatic people to attend testing sites, so I wouldn’t present any additional risk. Then my results would have been part of the NHS system, the Test and Trace service could have verified that I had been tested and that my status was negative.

There was no attempt to assess my level of compliance or the risks I presented to others, or anything regarding my own welfare. The service is just not fit for purpose. It felt like a tick-box exercise, going through the motions so we can pretend we have an effective quarantine system.

The more sinister conclusion is that this service has been deliberately separated from NHS provision. Why not let the NHS charge me for testing at local sites? At the moment it's essentially a travel tax designed to limit travel abroad by making it more expensive. I don’t have a problem with that per se, but these revenues are going to the shareholders of massive companies when they should be supporting public services.

It really looks like the quarantine system is being exploited to extend privatisation and increase the scope of non-NHS core service delivery.

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