Blackburn with Darwen launches own tracing system

Blackburn with Darwen Council has launched a locally supported contact tracing system for the borough to help plug holes in the national system.

The local authority, which has the highest infection rate in England, has developed a locally supported contact tracing system which will see council staff support efforts to find people who have come into contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus.

The council will use their local knowledge if the national process has been unable to contact someone. If the national system, which has faced wide criticism, cannot make contact with a local resident after two days, their details will be passed onto the local service to help find additional contacts.

Local residents will be given advice and guidance to help them isolate for the required length of time. The officer will also ask if the resident needs any support or help delivered through BwD Help Hub.

The national test-and-trace system, which was launched in May as a key part of the strategy to ease England out of lockdown, involves more than 20,000 contact tracers employed by private firms such as Serco and Sitel. Call handlers aim to make contact with all infected people and their contacts to advise them to self-isolate. But if they cannot make contact after 10 calls, they are advised to move on to the next case.

The government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies has said it needs to reach at least 80 per cent of people within 48 hours to be effective. The government says it is contacting 81 per cent of people testing positive each week and reaching 75 per cent of their contacts.

However, researchers claim that only 50 per cent of contacts were being traced. University College London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said the national system must improve significantly if schools were to safely reopen next month.

Paul Fleming, director of Business Change and the senior officer leading the development of the new BwD system, said: “Test and trace is a vital part of the national strategy to get the virus under control. It is even more vital in areas like ours where we have a rising tide of cases. Our system complements the national system because we have the local knowledge of the area and the ability to send officers round to people’s addresses. Our system is also beneficial because we can refer those who need to isolate to local support services if necessary.

“Our system has already gone live and we are already seeing its benefits as we have managed to contact people the national system couldn’t. I want to ask all residents to continue to work with us, continue to follow our advice and guidance and continue to take responsibility. Together we will beat the virus.”

Mohammed Khan, leader of the council, said: “Once again we see how local government, with its knowledge and connection to the local area, can rise to the challenge and deliver for our residents. I am proud that we have designed and delivered an effective and efficient local system to complement the national programme very quickly. Once again the council has shown local leadership in our battle against this terrible virus.”

It is understood that health officials in Greater Manchester are working on a similar locally run system. Sandwell council in the West Midlands became the first local authority to set up its own system last week.