Investigation launched after technical error misses 16,000 COVID-19 cases in England

An investigation has been launched after a glitch saw thousands of COVID-19 cases go unreported in England.

The technical error meant that although people who tested positive were told about their results, their close contacts were not traced.  

Discovered overnight on 2 October, it was revealed that the error was caused by Microsoft Excel data files exceeding the maximum size after they were sent from NHS Test and Trace to Public Health England (PHE).

PHE has stated that the error has now been fixed and outstanding cases have been passed on to tracers.

However, speaking in the House of Commons yesterday, health secretary Matt Hancock told MPs the incident as a whole had not yet been resolved and said it was a “serious issue that is being investigated fully.”

WHY IT MATTERS

PHE confirmed that 15,841 cases between 25 September and 2 October were left out of the UK daily case figures, with only 51% of those who tested positive and were caught up in the glitch now reached by contact tracers.

The remaining 49% are yet to be contacted by contact tracers as experts advise that ideally contacts should be tracked down within 48 hours.

UK Labour party said the missing results were “putting lives at risk”.

THE LARGER TREND

Despite being downloaded on to 12.4 million devices by noon yesterday since it launched on 1 October, the new NHS contact tracing app was not able to log a third of England’s positive tests until Saturday.

The new app did not work with a variety of older phones and generated false readings of close contacts.

ON THE RECORD

Director of cybersecurity and advisory services at AbedGraham, Dr Saif Abed told Healthcare IT News: “It’s critical that this isn’t seen as simply an ‘IT error’. It’s a national scale clinical risk incident. The delayed communication of data has hampered our understanding of the spread of the virus and the ability to mitigate it.”

“The fact that this stems from the misuse of commonly deployed software necessitates investigation by a Clinical Safety Officer and a review of whether NHS agencies are adequately resourced in terms of people, processes and technology to manage the mounting data needed for test and trace to be effective.”

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