Local Contact Tracing

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:25 pm on 14th October 2020.

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Photo of Kate Osborne Kate Osborne Labour, Jarrow 6:25 pm, 14th October 2020

Let us be clear from the start: the test, trace and isolate chaos that we are currently facing has been caused by outsourced companies running what should be public services for their own private profit. The current restrictions were never inevitable; they became inevitable as a result of this Government’s failure to get a properly functioning test, trace and isolate system in place. The system has been given to private companies with no qualifications for this work, overseen by business executives with no experience in public health. Just days before local restrictions came into place in the north-east, my Jarrow constituents were asking me to find out what has happened with the “shambles”, as they put it, that is the covid testing system. One constituent, Tracy, told me how a family member did a 110-mile round trip from Gateshead to Hawick in Scotland for a test. This was while there were appointments in Newcastle just a few miles along the road, but the centre had IT problems and the QR code was not being generated. She was rightly furious that her family member, while displaying symptoms, had to drive this distance. My Jarrow constituents are right: it is an utter shambles.

This Government’s approach to contact tracing is not just shambolic—it is dangerous. The evidence shows that contact tracing works much better on a local level. Both the South Tyneside and Gateshead local authorities covering my constituency have been constantly telling the Government this, but they are just not listening. I pay tribute to Alice Wiseman and Tom Hall, the directors of public health for those authorities, and their teams, for their dedication and hard work.

From Oldham to Peterborough, from Manchester to Cumbria, and across Wales, we have seen how local councils bring back much higher contact rates and can curb the spread of infection far more than the outsourced model that the Government keep throwing money away on. The Government know it is not working, yet the same old Tory ideological commitment to outsourcing continues. According to the Government’s own data, local health protection teams are reaching 97% of contacts and asking them to self-isolate, while, in contrast, outsourced cases handled online or by call centres return 62.4% contact rates. The most striking thing is that the Government have had plenty of opportunity throughout the summer to address the failures of a privatised and centralised contact tracing model, yet they have chosen to keep pouring money into the likes of Serco to lead the effort on tracking and tracing.