Regional contact tracing to be strengthened

NHS Test and Trace and Public Health England will extend its partnership with local authorities to reach more people testing positive and their contacts.

The government has announced that this new way of working will give local areas dedicated ring-fenced teams from the national service, and help reach more people testing positive and their contacts to stop the spread of coronavirus.

The announcement means that dedicated teams of NHS Test and Trace contact tracers will focus their work on specific areas, alongside the relevant local public health officials to provide a more tailored service. If the dedicated national team cannot make contact with a resident within a set period of time, the local public health officials can use the data provided by NHS Test and Trace to follow up, which in some pilot areas has involved local authority teams and voluntary partners visiting people at home.

This way of working has proven successful in Blackburn with Darwen, Luton and Leicester and is now being offered to all upper tier local authorities who are responsible for public health locally.

Dido Harding, chair of NHS Test and Trace, said: “NHS Test and Trace is one of the largest contact tracing and testing systems anywhere in the world, and was built rapidly, drawing on the UK’s existing health protection networks, to stop the spread of coronavirus. At the height of the pandemic we ensured the system had extra capacity in place to cope with potential peaks in the virus.

“We have always been clear that NHS Test and Trace must be local by default and that we do not operate alone – we work with and through partners across the country. As we learn more about the spread of the disease, we are able to move to our planned next step and become even more effective in tackling the virus. After successful trials in a small number of local areas, I am very pleased to announce that we are now offering this integrated localised approach to all local authorities to ensure we can reach more people in their communities and stop the spread of Covid-19.”

James Jamieson, chairman of the Local Government Association, said: “This announcement is good news for everyone. A strong national and local partnership is critical for test and trace to work as effectively as possible and it is right that local resources are kept under constant review to ensure everyone involved is able to help stop the virus spreading further. Using councils’ unrivalled local knowledge and vast experience of contact tracing within local public health teams is vital in the government’s national efforts.”

More localised testing also continues to be rolled out, with over 200 mobile testing units already in operation and over 200 walk-in centres to be open across the country by October.

Justin Madders, Shadow Health Minister, commented: “Labour has been calling for a locally-led contact tracing system for months – it’s welcome that local authorities are now finally being given additional support to tackle the virus in their areas. But it’s clear Boris Johnson’s £10 billion centralised contact tracing system is nowhere near ‘world beating’ as he claims and the system is unable to fight local outbreaks successfully.

“A truly effective system would provide all local areas with detailed data sets, ensure people have support to self-isolate if needed, and give local health officials the help and resources they need to lead contact tracing. Ministers must get on – and implement this without delay – it is vital that we get contact tracing working properly.”