NHS helpline told mother to send child to school after contact with positive case

A mother has told how Scottish health officials instructed her to send her son to school two days after being in contact with someone who had tested positive for Coronavirus - because she had not yet officially been told to isolate by the NHS Scotland contact tracing service.

By Jane Bradley
Tuesday, 29th September 2020, 7:30 am
Helen Kelly was told to go about her business as normal until she was contact by Test and Protect - despite the fact that she knew her son had been in contact with a positive case.
Helen Kelly was told to go about her business as normal until she was contact by Test and Protect - despite the fact that she knew her son had been in contact with a positive case.

Helen Kelly's eight-year-old son, Luke, had played at a friend's house after school on Friday, 21 August, spending the afternoon indoors with the family. She was sent a message two days later by the school friend's mother, who told her that her husband had tested positive for the virus that day and that she had passed Ms Kelly’s details on to the tracing service.

Ms Kelly, from Edinburgh, phoned the NHS Scotland coronavirus helpline to ask for advice on isolating her family and was told that if she had not yet been officially contacted by Test and Protect to formally identify Luke as a close contact, they should go about their business as usual - including sending Luke to school the next day.

She did not receive the phone call from Test and Protect to officially inform her of Luke’s contact with the positive case until the following Thursday - six days after he had been in contact with the infected father.

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“We were telling them that he had been in contact with someone who had tested positive and it was just a real ‘computer says no’ situation,” said Ms Kelly. “They asked us if Test and Protect had phoned and said we didn’t need to isolate at all until then, despite agreeing that the situation I had described would be likely to be classed as close contact. If I’d done what they said, I’d have sent him to school - he could in theory, have been in school until the following Thursday, potentially infecting all his classmates, if the family hadn’t told us about the case themselves.”

She added: “It was a shambles. This is why we’re generally in the situation we’re in now, with rising cases. They were just lucky that he hadn’t actually been infected.”

Ms Kelly, a communications manager, was also unable to get a drive-through test for Luke due to high demand in the system, despite him developing a temperature two days into their unofficial quarantine.

“I tried to book a test and was offered one first in Inverness and then in Newcastle,” she said. “I phoned the helpline again and explained the situation and that he’d actually been in contact with a positive test and now had symptoms and asked if there was any chance they could find a space for him closer to home, but they said no.

“He’d spent the entire weekend after he had been in contact with his friend’s father - before we knew - with his granny in Fife, who had taken him to church, so he had potentially infected a lot of older people in that community who were walking around unaware.”

The family eventually obtained a postal test and received negative results and completed the two week quarantine period at home.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Figures show that more than 80 per cent of index cases are being reached by Test and Protect within 24 hours of their positive test result being added to the Case Management System.

“Further, in more than 70 per cent of cases all close contacts have been notified within 48 hours of the index case first being added to the Case Management System.

“We continue to strengthen and improve the system to ensure Test and Protect is responsive to the circumstances, and to ensure delays like those described do not occur.

“As of last week, close contacts will now receive an immediate SMS notification from the contact tracing service, notifying them of the need to self-isolate and to expect a call from a contact tracer. This improvement will help further limit the risk of contacts passing the virus to others through earlier self-isolation.”

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