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National Contact Tracing Solution gets development funding

Tuesday, 28 April 2020  
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Return to home page editor Rebecca McBeth


The National Contact Tracing Solution will be developed and future-proofed as part of a $55 million funding package approved by Cabinet.


The government says the national solution will manage the delivery of a Covid-19 vaccine when one becomes available.


The solution stores case and contact details linked by exposure events, and supports contact management. It provides links to existing health information sources, primarily for sourcing contact details, via the National Health Index.


Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield told the Epidemic Response Committee that via the NHI, the NCTS would soon be able to link to laboratory data, clinical data and clinical outcomes.


A Ministry spokesperson says the solution is being expanded with new data sets and regular updates bring new functionality and business improvement.


“The Ministry’s intention is that any data held about individuals by health agencies related to contact tracing will only be to inform the public health response and not be used for other purposes,” the spokesperson tells


“We expect the majority of the Covid-19 related personal information held will also be regularly and automatically deleted.”


A rapid review of the health sector’s contact tracing abilities in relation to Covid-19 undertaken by Ayesha Verrall, says links via the NHI to other health datasets are important in order to verify current contact details.


Just 60 percent of contacts traced by the National Close Contact Service (NCCS) could be easily reached by phone, either because of incorrect contact details or because people did not answer calls from an unidentified number.


The Ministry says it has since shifted to a cloud based telephony platform with a standardised outbound local (Auckland) phone number.


Verrall’s report says that while the NCTS shows how long it takes to find contacts after a case is referred to the NCSS, it does not reveal the time from case symptom onset to contact isolation because the system does not collect data on case management.


“The time taken to be assessed clinically, tested and notified of results should be considered components of a single system, and measured and managed accordingly,” the report says.


Information systems that make some clinical, laboratory and PHU processes visible at a single point within the Ministry of Health, are needed to make this possible, it adds.


The Ministry says, “a workstream is focussed on automation of reporting and monitoring of the end to end process across the wider health system from initial onset of symptoms, through testing, contact tracing and self-isolation”.


Verrall’s report also recommends extending use of the NCTS to public health units to act as a single information system for the country.


The Ministry says the initial rollout is to those PHUs that “require a more robust platform to support their work locally”.


Those not initially adopting the system will provide data that can be loaded to ensure there is a single national view of all cases.


The National Screening Solution platform, which was due to start rolling out to DHBs early this year, was rapidly repurposed to develop the National Contact Tracing Solution for Covid-19.


Built on Salesforce technology, a minimum viable product of the NCTS was built in seven days. The Ministry says it was thoroughly reviewed and tested by a team of senior clinicians before being used from 4 April to process all calls to the NCCS.


The Ministry says the reuse of existing technology platforms allowed it to, “move and scale quickly whilst knowing these are robust, secure, proven systems that already maintain the integrity and privacy of New Zealanders health and identity related data”.


The Ministry had input from its Digital Investment Board and with specific advice from the sector. The Ministry has also sought advice from the Government Chief Digital Officer, the National Cyber-Security Centre, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner and NZHIT.


If you would like to provide feedback on this news story, please contact the editor Rebecca McBeth.


Read more news:

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Cortex digitises Covid-19 workflows in Canterbury


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