Covid: What contact tracing powers could local authorities get?

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Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick has said councils are bound to do a better job of coronavirus contact tracing and that the Government will be supporting them to do this.

His comments come amid reports local authorities are to be given greater control over the NHS Test and Trace programme.

The Andrew Marr Show
Robert Jenrick (Yui Mok/PA)

– Why are leaders talking about contact tracing?

The NHS Test and Trace programme, run by Serco and Sitel, has faced questions about performance and value for money. It has faced repeated criticism, with the service recording its worst week for contact tracing on Thursday.

A protest was also staged outside a Government department demanding that local public health teams are put in charge of the Test and Trace virus system.

Some 68.6% of close contacts of people who tested positive for Covid-19 in England were reached through the system in the week ending September 30, the lowest weekly percentage since Test and Trace began.

Local leaders have complained that their expertise has been ignored despite local health protection teams reaching 97.1% of contacts, compared with 62.4% by call centres.

– What has the Government said?

Mr Jenrick admitted that local councils that know their “hard-to-reach communities” are bound to do a better job of tracing, and the Government will be supporting them to do this.

Asked whether the Government is going to hand Test and Trace over to local authorities, Mr Jenrick told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show: “We’re going to work very closely with local authorities.”

It follows reports in The Sunday Times that more contact tracing is to be done by councils in an attempt to get NHS Test and Trace back on track and rising infection rates under control.

– What powers would be given to local authorities?

The Government has not set out exactly what powers will be given to local authorities.

HEALTH Testing
(PA Graphics)

– How does local contact tracing work?

Once a person has a confirmed positive coronavirus test, their case is transferred to NHS Test and Trace, which makes an initial decision on how to handle it based on its complexity.

Non-complex cases are then contacted either online or by the call centre staff and asked to give details of their contacts.

But complex cases are escalated to local health protection teams who work to identify and reach recent close contacts and advise them to self-isolate.

– What are complex cases?

Public Health England (PHE) local health protection teams manage cases linked to outbreaks including people who work or have recently visited hospitals, care homes, prisons, special needs schools or critical national infrastructure or areas vital for national security.

– How are they managed?

HEALTH Coronavirus
(PA Graphics)

– Do local teams pick up other cases?

A number of locally-supported contact tracing teams have been set up across England, following up on contacts the national system has been unable to reach.

The PA news agency understands that 93 have been set up since August, while 73 local authorities are working on implementing one and 118 have expressed an interest.

These teams pick up on contacts the national team has been unable to trace and try to get in touch with them themselves through specially trained local call handlers from the council, including checking local information to clarify and improve data details.

If this is not successful, then teams can knock on their door to try to make contact.

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