Local Contact Tracing

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:47 pm on 14th October 2020.

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Photo of Munira Wilson Munira Wilson Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Health and Social Care) 5:47 pm, 14th October 2020

My Liberal Democrat colleagues and I support Labour’s motion. This is not about ideology; it is about what works. In the midst of a public health emergency and an economic crisis the likes of which we have never seen before, it is about not politics but what works. We in the Liberal Democrats have been calling since April for tracing to be locally led, because we understand that local authorities know their communities best and local directors of public health have the expertise to do the tracing.

There has been a lot of talk about testing and I have talked a lot about testing, so I shall not go over that, given the time available, but the one thing I will say about it is that we must—must—turn around tests within 24 hours. That turnaround time has dropped to around 25% and tracing is not effective if the tests are not turned around quickly enough.

I have heard about local tracing for myself from directors of public health and local councillors. In Watford, they have a 93% local tracing rate. This morning, I talked to councillors in Liverpool, where they have a 97% local tracing rate. Until today, they had had only £300,000 to do that tracing, yet on average they have to trace around 5,000 contacts a day. Yes, more resources are now going to tier 3, but that resource needs to go everywhere.

Sky News has just broken the story that it has uncovered Boston Consulting Group contracts that suggest BCG consultants are paid £7,000 day rates to work on test and trace. Just imagine how far that money would go if it was given to local authorities. These consultants are being paid weekly the equivalent of what a nurse earns in a year. I do not have an ideological issue with the private sector, but, as the Chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, Mr Betts, said, it is about having the right expertise in the right place.

On isolation, as Chris Bryant said, it is important that we have in place the right package of support, both financial and practical, as we have seen in other countries, including Korea and Germany. There is a local element in Italy and Iceland, where local service providers are also supporting enforcement with their local populations. It is not about slapping £10,000 fines on people for not self-isolating, as this place has legislated to do.

I say to the Minister humbly: please recognise that you cannot get everything right in a pandemic. Change tack or we will be stuck in this yo-yo situation forever. The only way to keep the virus under control is by testing, tracing and isolating, so for the sake of the British people, to save lives and to save jobs, turn around tests in 24 hours, devolve tracing locally and double down on isolation. That should be the ultimate condition if there is to be a circuit breaker. We need a major overhaul of the system.