Worried about staying safe? Here's how an army of health professionals is working behind the scenes to help protect us from coronavirus and get us back to normal

NHS Test and Trace is using an army of healthcare professionals to track Covid-19 and prevent its spread
Lockdown is easing and life is looking a bit brighter... but the very real threat of coronavirus hasn’t gone away.
So, behind the scenes, a team of tireless professionals from NHS Test and Trace is working day and night to help us all stay safe as we get back to much needed normality.
Testing for Covid-19, and tracing contacts for anyone who tests positive, is the best way to control the virus until an effective vaccine is found
Testing for Covid-19, and tracing contacts for anyone who tests positive, is the best way to control the virus until an effective vaccine is found
Until an effective vaccine is found, this is the best and most effective way of controlling the virus.
NHS Test and Trace works by asking everyone who tests positive for Covid-19 to give details of anyone they’ve recently met. Those named are then asked to self-isolate so they don’t spread the disease.
And it’s working: since the system was launched in late May, more than 84 per cent of those at risk have been reached and asked to stay at home.
So far, it’s helped prevent a second wave of the pandemic sweeping the country, and let us enjoy the little things that make life special.
Here, we take a look at the work of the trained health professionals providing this vital service.
◾ This information is relevant for readers in England only 
As lockdown restrictions ease, many Brits are feeling under pressure to start getting back to ‘normal’ life again, says NHS Clinical Contact Caseworker Gurinder Singh. So much so, that one woman had even been urged to meet her friends after testing positive for coronavirus.
‘More families and friends are now meeting, and the cases I have spoken to have felt under pressure to attend these social gatherings,’ says the 30-year-old from Swindon.
‘I reassured a recent patient that her decision to not meet friends was absolutely correct, and that she shouldn’t meet anyone for the full seven days and until her symptoms resolved, even though they were minor.’
'I feel proud to be part of the national effort against Covid-19': Gurinder Singh, from Swindon
'I feel proud to be part of the national effort against Covid-19': Gurinder Singh, from Swindon
Gurinder, a pharmacist, says there’s now more understanding of just how important the NHS’s Test and Trace programme is, and that people realise they’re speaking to a fully trained professional.
‘I’ve actually felt a positive step change from the people I’ve spoken to because there’s more awareness that there are professional clinical people working in this role and, at a time of great uncertainty, it’s just what they need – a healthcare professional on hand to listen to concerns,’ he says. ‘Before, I was spending the first few minutes just explaining and making sure they were happy to speak to me.’
With black and minority ethnic people at particular risk of Covid-19, Gurinder’s knowledge of many languages such as Punjabi, Hindi and Urdu, has been helpful.
‘The BAME community is worried about coronavirus, so it’s been great to be able to speak to many South Asian contacts in their first language, giving clear advice about symptoms and self-isolation, reassuring them and signposting them to the right support they need,’ he says.
‘I feel proud to be part of this national effort, and I look forward to telling my children about the time their father put himself forward to help this country at a time when it needed him the most.’
Imagine your husband is dying of coronavirus in hospital, it’s his birthday and you’re desperate to visit him.
But if you see him now, you’ll have to self-isolate for a fortnight and won’t be able to be there to comfort him at the end. It’s a desperate, almost unimaginable choice to have to make.
But it’s a situation one woman was facing when Clinical Contact Caseworker Kam Khatker called her recently.
'We've all got to make it work': Kam Khatker, from Iver, Buckinghamshire, is an osteopath
'We've all got to make it work': Kam Khatker, from Iver, Buckinghamshire, is an osteopath
Thankfully, Kam could offer some help. Because not only was the woman worried about her husband, she also feared she’d put her own elderly parents in danger by dropping off shopping to them.
‘She was so worried about what the implications were,’ says 40-year-old Kam from Iver, Buckinghamshire.
Kam believes that being able to offer reassurance to patients at the most desperate time in their lives is just as important as tracing their contacts. She uses the skills she’s built up over years of running her own osteopathy clinic to put people at ease and provide them with the reassurance they need.
‘For a lot of people, especially if they haven’t seen it first-hand, the virus can almost feel like a virtual thing,’ she says. ‘So when you get a positive diagnosis, it can be quite overwhelming.’
Particularly as many think the virus has gone away.
‘I had a very young woman who was working in with assisted-learning adults, and she was totally shocked because everybody at her workplace had tested positive,’ says Kam. ‘She said, “I knew I would probably get it, but I didn’t think it would be now”.’
That’s why the NHS’s Test and Trace service is so important in tackling coronavirus, says Kam.
‘What else have we got? We’ve all got to make it work. We need everybody’s confidence. I think people are becoming more aware, and the more familiar they become, the more that’s going to help.'
With Leicester back in lockdown and other places under threat of the same, a new task force of NHS Test and Trace operatives has been set up to crack down on any flare up of cases found in these localised areas.
Under new rules, this specialist team will have just 48 hours to contact people who have been exposed to coronavirus to ask them to self-isolate, before a healthcare professional visits them in person to tell them what they must do. That’s half the time given to alerting cases in the rest of the country.
It’s hoped that this swift response will stop any new outbreak in its tracks.
‘There’s always been a sense of urgency,’ says Atif Hussain, who is on the new team. ‘But as we’re dealing with a more urgent situation, there’s a 48-hour limit on contacting the cases.
Atif Hussain likes being able to help people at one of the most difficult times in their lives
Atif Hussain likes being able to help people at one of the most difficult times in their lives
‘If after that time we can’t make contact with them, a team will go to the household and tell them to self-isolate and why. Elsewhere, the time limit is 96 hours. That’s key.’
Atif, a locum optometrist before lockdown, has been part of the Test and Trace team since it started in May.
Knowing how vital their work was, he jumped at the chance to join the taskforce set up to deal with cases in Leicester. But the time limit isn’t the only change new the team has made.
‘When we call anyone from Leicester, we discuss with them in more detail the support we can offer, such as help with food shopping and picking up prescription medication,’ says the 32-year-old. ‘This will help people better cope with self-isolation.
‘Previously we were just discussing support from the local authority, now we’ll discuss specific help they can receive from the NHS Volunteers Responders, an 8am to 8pm service of local volunteers.’
It’s being able to help people at such a difficult time in their lives that makes the job even more worthwhile for Atif.
‘There was a man who was very upset and anxious,’ says Atif, from Rochdale. ‘He only had four or five pounds in his pocket, and was at risk of homelessness. He was in a dark place and quite emotional over the phone.
‘I was slightly alarmed – I felt like there was a potential for self-harm. To avoid that, I escalated the case to the safeguarding team, who took appropriate measures to give him support.
‘That’s one of the most rewarding aspects of the role.’
There is one case that stands out for Clinical Contact Caseworker Sarah Hartle, and that was a family that was taking the rules TOO far.
Sarah spoke to a family that had all tested positive for coronavirus, but had continued to isolate in separate rooms of the house.
‘The family were following UK Government advice to the letter,’ says the 34-year-old. ‘But they were isolating in different rooms of the house.
‘So I spoke to that man and told him it was absolutely fine to hug your family, and he got so emotional. It’s lovely that people are trying so hard to protect each other.’
Dental hygienist Sarah, from Manchester, believes the beauty of the NHS Test and Trace service is that it helps tailor advice to the individual.
Dental hygienist Sarah Hartle, from Manchester, says it's an emotional job but a rewarding one
Dental hygienist Sarah Hartle, from Manchester, says it's an emotional job but a rewarding one
‘There are a lot of people’s own interpretations of the guidelines, and it does help to call them and clarify it,’ she says.
Sarah has been with the Test and Trace team since the beginning, but has seen it morph into a much slicker, more effective operation as time goes by.
‘When we started, the system was brand new and tailored to what we needed at the time, but we’ve found that as it’s gone on, the system’s needed to adapt because restaurants, pubs and shops have re-opened,’ she says.
Now when trying to trace contacts, it will prompt Sarah to ask who was wearing masks, if screens were up and if they paid by cash or card. That way she can more easily work out if someone is at risk.
The system also now deals with taxi trips (if you’re wearing a mask and there is a screen, it’s not classed as a ‘contact’) and international flights. Asking careful questions, such as where the person was sitting, means that not everyone on the plane needs to self-isolate.
There is also a new translation service that contact tracers can ring, which puts them in touch with a translator for any language within seconds, vastly speeding up the response time.
And, with tracers able to offer so much help and advice, the people she calls are grateful for the service.
‘It’s an emotional job, but very rewarding,’ says Sarah, ‘especially when you come off the phone and think: “Do you know what? I’ve really helped them”. You can hear their anxiety getting less and less.
‘I think everyone’s got to be proud of what we’ve done together – we’ve got the amount of cases right down. Everybody I’ve seen is adhering to social distancing, we’ve got hand sanitisers everywhere and people are wearing masks – it’s brilliant.
‘I just don’t want people to forget that it’s still out there. We’re not out of the woods yet.’


Since its launch on May 28, NHS Test and Trace has helped stop countless people contracting deadly coronavirus.
  • Between July 9-15, 355,597 people were newly tested for coronavirus, of whom 3,953 tested positive.
  • Of the 3,887 referred to the contact tracing system, 3,098 (77.9 per cent) were reached and asked to provide details of close contacts. 
  • Most people reached by NHS Test and Trace provided details for at least one contact.
  • 16,742 people were identified as coming into close contact with someone who had tested positive and were transferred to contact tracing. 
  • Of these, 13,034 people (77.9 per cent) were reached and asked to self-isolate.
Getting tested for Covid-19 is free and available to anybody who thinks that they might have the virus.
If you develop symptoms, you should immediately self-isolate, then book a place at a walk-in or drive-in centre near your home by going online or calling 119.
You’ll usually receive the result by text or email within a day, although if you choose to have a test kit sent to your home, it will take longer.
If the result is negative, you can start going out again, but if positive, you should continue to self-isolate.
You’ll then be asked to take part in the NHS’s Test and Trace scheme by going online to record people you’ve had contact with – that’s anyone you’ve been less than two metres away from for more than 15 minutes – in the past couple of weeks. If you don’t do this, or you’re under 18 or don’t have access to the internet, they’ll phone you to get the details. Most people will get the call within a day of the result.
Then your contacts will be spoken to by the NHS tracers – don’t worry, they won’t tell them your name – and requested to self-isolate from the day of contact and have a test at the first sign of symptoms.
All details given are confidential and only used by the NHS to control the virus and save lives.

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