Press release

NHS Test and Trace continues to improve

Test turnaround times are improving, more contacts are being reached than ever before, while 200 local tracing partnerships have been launched with local authorities.

This was published under the 2019 to 2022 Johnson Conservative government

People taking PCR swab tests are receiving their results faster, thanks to improving turnaround times. This means that people who receive a negative test result can get back to their normal lives sooner, while contacts of those who test positive can more quickly be contacted, breaking those chains of transmission that enable the virus to spread.

Increasing capacity, comprehensive remapping of sites, channels and labs with tests going to the nearest geographical lab, improved flow of samples to labs and enhanced automation to speed processing, have resulted in an increase in the number of in-person test results received the next day, up to 79.0% from 69.1% the previous week.

In total during the week of 12 to 18 November, 342,631 cases and contacts were reached and advised to self-isolate – people who might otherwise have unknowingly spread the virus. Improvements to the contact-tracing process, introduced last week, mean that under-18s in a household no longer have to be contact traced individually, as long as the parent or guardian in the household confirms they have completed their legal duty to inform their child to self-isolate.

The changes were made following feedback from the public and our local tracing partners, and have been positively received. They come alongside further improvements to the tracing service, including improvements to digital self-service, making it faster and easier to provide tracing information, and measures to further reduce the time it takes to complete tracing of positive cases and their contacts.

Further changes coming in this week will streamline the process for adults in the same family so they can be traced via a single phone call, which should result in even greater improvements to the service. Meanwhile, 200 local authorities have now joined forces with NHS Test and Trace to launch local tracing partnerships, combining specialist local expertise with the data and resources of NHS Test and Trace. These strong partnerships enable NHS Test and Trace to go further in supporting people who have tested positive for COVID-19 and tracing their recent contacts. A further 100 are in the process of being implemented.

Interim Executive Chair of the National Institute for Health Protection Baroness Dido Harding said:

This week we have seen more tests processed and more positive cases contacted than ever before, which means we are curbing the rate of infection and informing those who otherwise would have unknowingly spread the virus. This is another clear indication that as the number of people using NHS Test and Trace continues to increase, so the service is constantly evolving and improving.

We have also responded to feedback from the public, making improvements to the contact-tracing process that are already seeing a positive reaction.

Defeating COVID-19 involves everyone working together across both national and local government. Local authorities play a hugely important role in delivering test and trace services and supporting their communities through outbreaks. The vast experience within local public health teams is vital in the government’s national efforts, and we now have 200 local tracing partnerships in operation, and even more still to be launched.

Thank you to all of you who are continuing to work tirelessly to ensure the service continues to evolve and improve.

Health Minister Lord Bethell said:

Increases in capacity and improvements in the service are seeing NHS Test and Trace grow from strength to strength. Maximising new testing technologies and building new labs will significantly increase the volume of testing, enabling much more testing of key groups and creating a surge capacity to target cities and regions where this scale of testing is most needed.

More than 39 million tests have now been processed, and with further infrastructure in development, this will continue to supplement our extensive work to improve contact tracing.

Professor Isabel Oliver, National Infection Service Director at Public Health England, said:

It is fantastic to see so many local tracing partnerships now underway, giving us better insights on where transmission of infection is occurring. We’re incredibly grateful to everyone involved in the national and local teams across the country who are working non-stop to help us combat the spread of the virus.

These vital partnerships will help us contact as many people as possible, as quickly as possible. Beating COVID-19 involves everyone working together and we hope that even more local authorities will join this vital work.


Figures published today show that NHS Test and Trace continues to process more tests across the country than ever before. During the week of 12 to 18 November, 2,163,425 tests were processed for pillars 1 and 2, an increase of 6% (125,941) compared with the previous week.

More than 39 million tests have been conducted in total, more than any other comparable European country. With more than 700 test sites now in operation, the median distance travelled for a test has fallen again, to 2.5 miles.

Testing capacity for those with COVID-19 symptoms has increased almost 5-fold in 6 months, from 100,000 a day at the end of April to 500,000 a day by the end of October, with plans to go even further by the end of the year.

Thanks to continued increases in capacity, turnaround times for in-person test routes continue to improve. The median time taken to receive a test result has decreased to 22 to 27 hours.

For this reporting period, 79.0% of in-person test results were received the next day after the test was taken, a significant increase on the 69.1% reported in the previous week. For all routes combined, this week’s figure was 48.0%, compared with 41.8% the previous week. 88.1% of pillar 1 test results were made available within 24 hours, compared with 85.8% the previous week.


The number of positive cases being transferred to contact tracers has remained steady, with 156,574 transferred between 12 and 18 November, 84.9% of whom were reached and told to self-isolate.

The number of people identified as coming into close contact with someone who has tested positive has increased by almost 35,000, from 314,360 to 347,575. Of these where communication details were available, 77.8% were reached and asked to self-isolate.

Since its launch in May, 83.3% of all cases have been reached. More than 2.7 million people have been reached by the service, including those who tested positive and their contacts.

Background information

The weekly statistics from the 25th week of NHS Test and Trace show in the most recent week of operations (12 to 18 November):

  • a total of 2,163,425 tests were processed for pillars 1 and 2, an increase of 6% (125,941) compared with the previous week
  • 132,905 (84.9%) people who tested positive and were transferred to the contact-tracing system were reached and asked to provide information about their contacts, compared with 134,688 (85.9%) the previous week
  • 77.8% of contacts where communication details were given were reached and told to self-isolate, compared with 78% the previous week
  • 79.0% of in-person test results were received the next day after the test was taken, compared with 69.1% the previous week
  • 50.6% of in-person test results were received within 24 hours after the test was taken, compared with 38.0% the previous week
  • 91.6% of satellite (care home) tests were received within 3 days after the day they were taken, compared with 91.3% the previous week

Since NHS Test and Trace launched, over 2.7 million contacts have been identified, and 79.7% of all contacts where communication details were given have been reached and told to self-isolate.

Latest figures also show that the NHS COVID-19 app has been downloaded more than 20 million times since it was launched.

Updates to this page

Published 26 November 2020