Local Contact Tracing

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:38 pm on 14th October 2020.

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Photo of Margaret Greenwood Margaret Greenwood Shadow Minister (Education) 5:38 pm, 14th October 2020

A comprehensive and effective track and trace system is essential if we are to tackle this virus. Sadly, the Government have failed to deliver on that. Wirral headteachers have written to me about the damaging delays in receiving test results, which have meant teachers in local schools being absent as they wait to find out whether they have covid-19. One NHS doctor wrote to describe how she, her husband, who is also a doctor, and other family members had multiple phone calls from different people giving them different advice on quarantine periods. Another individual told me how he received a letter dated 3 October that told him he had to self-isolate until 8 September.

In the latest weekly statistics, more than 51,000 people tested positive for covid-19 nationally, but only two thirds of those were transferred to the contact tracing system. Council officers in Wirral tell me that the national system is only reaching 63% of close contacts in Wirral, meaning that 37% are not being provided with timely advice. I have written to the Secretary of State three times since May calling on the Government to share the vital data that Wirral Council public health department needs to aid it in its test and trace measures and outbreak plans.

Instead of putting contact tracing in the hands of councils or local public health teams who know their communities well, the Government have decided to award huge contracts with eye-watering sums of money to private companies to run test and trace. The Government have allowed their obsession with privatising the national health service to overshadow the need to provide a comprehensive and effective system. The public are quite rightly angry about that.

Serco was initially given a contract for £108 million for 14 weeks with the option to extend for a longer period, with a value of up to £410 million in total. However, we need to know how Serco’s performance is being measured and whether it has been subject to deductions for failing to meet standards of delivery. That transparency is denied to us under this Government.

Along with the additional restrictions that have come in for the Liverpool city region this week, the Government have at last confirmed £14 million for the region for a range of activities, which include enhanced contact tracing, but we need clarity from the Government. Will the Minister clarify how that money will be spent, and will she commit to an expansion of our local authority public health teams?

It is time that the Government took a sober look at the landscape in which we find ourselves. They must once and for all hand over control of contact tracing to councils and local public health teams across the country, and that must be backed up with the necessary resources, so that we can defeat the virus and save lives.