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Whilst the programme struggled to cope with earlier peaks in virus transmission, it has demonstrated an ability to rapidly learn and evolve in response to the challenges it has faced.
The Test, Trace, Protect (TTP) programme has successfully brought together different parts of the Welsh public sector, and other agencies, to rapidly build a system of testing and contact tracing largely from scratch and on an unprecedented scale.
TTP has been at the frontline of the Welsh Government’s approach to limiting the spread of COVID-19. As in other parts of the UK, the TTP programme on its own has not been able to wholly prevent the spread of the virus and has needed to be supplemented by local and national lockdown restrictions. This report looks at how public services are responding to the challenges of delivering TTP services in Wales, in what has been, and continues to be, a rapidly evolving programme.
In the early stages of the pandemic, testing capacity in Wales was insufficient to cope with the increasing incidence of COVID-19. Wales needed to make use of the UK Lighthouse Lab network and increase capacity within Welsh laboratories to cope with the demand for tests. After some initial logistical challenges, this hybrid testing system has largely been able to turn around tests quickly. However, the testing system in Wales needs to continue to evolve to ensure it is fit for purpose, especially in respect of hospital patients.
Contact tracing teams were successfully established across Wales, drawing on rapidly expanding workforces that benefited from local intelligence and knowledge. Contact tracing has generally performed well, helped by a mutual aid agreement between regions. However, at times of high demand across the whole of Wales, the system has struggled to track positive cases and their contacts quickly.
There is good information to show the range of services and support available to help the public self-isolate when needed, but our work has found that it is difficult to know how well the “protect” element of TTP is working in practice.
The programme has demonstrated that it can adapt and evolve quickly, learning lessons from the management of early outbreaks and trying to effectively marry Wales specific and UK-wide arrangements. However, this has been a challenge, with officials describing it as trying to “design, build and fly an aircraft all at the same time”.
Our report has highlighted a number of key challenges and opportunities as the TTP continues throughout 2021:
Wales has developed a Test, Trace, Protect service largely from scratch and at unprecedented scale and pace.
It’s been particularly encouraging to see how well public sector partners have worked together at a national, regional, and local level to combine specialist expertise with local knowledge and an ability to rapidly learn and adjust the programme as we’ve gone through the pandemic. It’s important that the positive learning is captured and applied more widely.
There have been times when the Test, Trace, Protect service has been stretched to the limit but it has responded well to these challenges. The programme needs to continue to evolve, alongside the rollout of vaccines, to ensure it remains focused on reaching positive cases, and their contacts, and supporting people to self-isolate to help keep the virus in check.