Local Contact Tracing

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:08 pm on 14th October 2020.

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Photo of Catherine McKinnell Catherine McKinnell Chair, Petitions Committee, Chair, Petitions Committee 6:08 pm, 14th October 2020

I agree with everything my hon. Friend Alison McGovern said.

NHS Test and Trace is not working. Billions of pounds have been poured into a system that has sidelined existing local expertise in primary care, public health and science. The resulting system is labelled NHS Test and Trace, but it has hardly anything to do with the NHS. Stop denigrating the NHS by associating it with this failing system.

We are stuck in this world of uncertainty, with a rising infection rate and the virus out of control, and we are without the ability to properly track it, as my hon. Friend has just described. It is like “Groundhog Day”. Until we have a vaccine, we will not get out of this without a functioning track and trace system.

We are the fifth richest economy in the world, and we have one of the best healthcare systems. We have leading science research universities, yet we have spent all this money contracting out the system to Serco. Now, on top of that, we are spending millions of pounds bringing in private contractors to try to sort out the mess. It costs more in one week than we pay an experienced nurse in a year. It is a disgrace, and it feels like a wasted opportunity to build on the existing expertise and experience to strengthen the local systems in primary care and local authorities. Doing that now is the only way out of this nightmare scenario.

The outbreaks we have seen in the universities in Newcastle, for example, were not identified by the national system—it seems incapable of doing that at present. The outbreaks were identified based on local intelligence and local knowledge, and by piecing the pieces together. We know that co-operation between local health services and authorities is the way to control infectious diseases. GPs, NHS and public health laboratories, and local public health officers all play a key role. Winter is approaching and GPs will be the people who can see the overlap in covid symptoms such as fever and a dry cough, and the classic flu symptoms of fatigue, sore throat and headaches. We need that integrated public health expertise to truly make this testing and tracking system work. We have 1,200 primary care networks in England. They will be best placed not only to run test, track and trace, but to deliver the vaccine when we finally have it—we will be ready for it.