Local Contact Tracing

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:35 pm on 14th October 2020.

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Photo of Marie Rimmer Marie Rimmer Opposition Whip (Commons) 5:35 pm, 14th October 2020

The world-beating test and trace system set up to control covid-19 has been an expensive failure. Covid-19 is having a devastating effect on lives and livelihoods at the speed we saw back in April, especially in less affluent areas and communities, such as Liverpool city region. The Government have difficulty admitting that, when the system has cost £12 billion, but recognise it and act they must, as lives are at stake.

For test and trace to work, the Government must learn lessons from the experiences and outcomes to date. Local knowledge is the key to success. When a business is looking to expand into new markets, local expertise is hired to help. This situation is no different. One centralised, outsourced system was destined to fail. For months, many people have called on the Government to support local authorities and public health and expand their role. Their teams have proven to be successful at controlling the outbreaks, once they have got over the business of testing and the lack of PPE in care homes in those areas.

National Test and Trace teams contact positive cases by phoning and leaving a message, but many do not get back to them. Sometimes, they pass those failures on to local government, and local government goes out, knocks on doors and gets responses, and that has been proven. These teams have invaluable knowledge of the people and places where they are working year in, year out. Higher contact tracing rates lead to reduced covid-19 spread. It is the only way to get it under control. Local authorities do not have the capacity to do it all themselves—they are already beyond stretched. One outsourcing company subcontracted 28 different companies with no knowledge or experience to succeed, and that has proven to be a failure.

Often, the solution is simple. We currently have too much of a disconnect between local and national teams. By the time the subcontractors contact local teams to help, days have passed with covid-19 on legs, spreading. Effective information-sharing leads to faster contact tracing. Redeploying the national pool of contact tracers directly with local teams would help that. That is how the country can get a test and trace system working, which is what we all want.

Local authorities and their public health teams should be given the lead on test and trace and the resource to do so. Adequate funding is necessary so that they can expand their teams, but it takes time to recruit, and that is why I urge that the 25,000 tracers employed by the private sector are redeployed somehow into local teams.