Councils have a near 100 per cent record at contact tracing, officials have revealed, amid calls for them to be handed responsibility for test and trace.
While the national call centre is getting hold of 40 per cent of people who have been near an infected person, local authorities are managing 95 per cent, said Sir John Oldham, adjunct professor in global health innovation at Imperial College London.
Sir John, a former leader of large-scale change at the Department of Health, said this indicates councils have the ability to manage the programme independently – and “failing central call centres” should be scrapped.
“I think the lockdown will be a let down unless we increase trust and there is radical reform of Test and Trace, led by public health,” he told the BBC.
“I think this probably includes increasing the number of small labs to increase turnaround time and crucially the results to go to local directors of health and for them to have teams to undertake the contact tracing.
“I’d probably get the resources for that by scrapping the failing central call centres. I think they have demonstrated that they have the capability and effectiveness.”
His comments come after the national tracing programme hit a new low, recording its worst weekly performance since being set up. The latest figures show 59.9 per cent of close contacts of people who tested positive in England were reached through the system in the week ending Oct 28.
Meanwhile, Liverpool’s director of public health, Matt Ashton, said the city’s mass testing pilot had shown positive signs on its first day of operation.
However, Chris Lovitt, deputy director of public health at City of London and Hackney Council, said taking full responsibility for contact tracing locally would be a challenge.
“At this stage, I think it’s very difficult for us to mobilise all the resources necessary to take it on,” he told the BBC.
“Don’t underestimate the amount of time it takes for us to actually make these contacts, use the national system, get it to work locally.”
He said his six-person team had managed to follow up on just under half the contacts of those who had tested positive after NHS Test and Trace failed to trace them.
“We’ve had 700 cases transferred for the six-week period we’ve been working on and bearing in mind these are the cases that NHS Test and Trace couldn’t contact, we were able to contact 300 of those people, confirm that they are willing to take part in Test and Trace and then we transfer those details back to the national team for them to do the very detailed contact tracing,” he said.