Local Contact Tracing

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:50 pm on 14th October 2020.

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Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham 5:50 pm, 14th October 2020

The only thing I agreed with in the coalition Government’s reform of the health service was the devolution of public health to local councils. As my hon. Friend Mr Betts says, that is because they know how to do it. They do it every week for sexually transmitted diseases, TB and other outbreaks.

The hon. Members for Crewe and Nantwich (Dr Mullan) and for Milton Keynes North (Ben Everitt) accused those of us on the Opposition Benches of being ideological. Let me put it on the record: I have no ideological issues with using the private sector when it adds benefit. It is this Government who have been ideological. Their national test and trace system ignored local authorities. With the school meals vouchers, they did not give the money to local authorities to put systems in place; it was a national system. PPE was a disaster. Even the national volunteering programme, where people who signed up were unable to volunteer, was all done nationally. That national approach has been the biggest failure throughout this crisis. That has been the ideological mindset of the Government. The issue with getting test and trace in place has become all about the number of tests. No, it is not. It is what you do with those results afterwards. For example, in Cumbria test and trace is being done locally. It has lower rates and those rates are going down.

The system is broken. Andrew Bowie said that the Government have given local authorities £300 million. So what? They have put billions of pounds into the hands of private companies, which have then completely failed. If we were employing them ourselves directly, we would have sacked them a long time ago.

The Government can bring in as many tiers and as much information as they want, but there are two things that have to be done with public health messages: make them clear and explain why they are being done. On those two things, the Government have failed completely by chopping and changing. They can bring in as many fines and restrictions as they like, but unless there is effective testing and, more importantly, tracing of individuals, they will not get on top of this crisis. Added to that, the national contract means that my constituents who work in care homes are waiting seven days to get a test result. I’m sorry, but it doesn’t work.

It is no good the Government saying they are working with local authorities. They are not. They are basically throwing over to local authorities the positive test results they cannot trace themselves. In many cases, it is too late. My local director of public health says she is getting information 48 hours late. That is of absolutely no use. So, come on Government! Wake up! Get out of your ideological bubble and actually ensure you engage with local authorities.