Local Contact Tracing

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:41 pm on 14th October 2020.

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Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, Chair, Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee 5:41 pm, 14th October 2020

Arguing about what restrictions should be in place is no use—it is completely irrelevant—unless we have an effective contact tracing and tracking system. We will not get the R number down. We will not control the virus. I am just asking for an effective system, not a world-beating one. It should not be too much to ask.

The Minister mentioned walk-in centres—great. Darnall in my constituency had a high level of infections. A walk-in testing centre was introduced. Within a few days, people could not walk into it anymore, but they could phone up. When constituents phoned up to make an appointment at the local centre, they were diverted to another centre many miles away. That is no way to run an effective system. And then, of course, people wait days for the results to come back, meaning that other people are either walking around when they are infectious, when they should be isolating, or isolating when they have no need to. What a waste of people’s time. What a risk to health.

The Sheffield Star has done an excellent job in giving local people information. The other day it said that on the most recent figures, only 60% of people who should be contacted because they have been in contact with an infected person are actually being contacted through the track and trace system. Towards the end of September, only 60% of infected cases were being put in the system in the first place, which means that only one third of those who should have been contacted were actually being contacted. This is a major failure—a system that is not effective; it is simply failing. Compare that with the 97% contact rate that has been achieved where contact tracking and tracing is being done at a local level by local authorities and local directors of public health.

I am not against a national system. I am not saying that everything is going to be invented locally. I argued to the Prime Minister, however, when he came to the Liaison Committee on 27 May, that when the national system was developed, it should have been developed in co-ordination with and with the advice of the Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Public Health. That advice should have gone into it in the first place.

I have believed from the beginning that we should have had more stringent penalties in the national system to ensure that people complied with the requirements, and people should have been compensated for a loss of income when they isolated from the beginning. I am not against the private sector being involved, but it is about where the expertise is. The private sector’s expertise is clearly in developing a vaccine. It should be allowed to do that, but the expertise for contact tracking and tracing is with directors of public health. That is what they do as a profession—control infectious diseases—and very simply, if we are going to be effective, it is much more effective for a director of public health to recruit a local person to go and knock on someone’s door than for that person to get a phone call from someone else 200 miles away who does not understand the local area.