‘Door knocks’ a possibility for Covid-19 contacts

People who have been in contact with confirmed coronavirus cases may get a knock on their door if tracers are unable to reach them over the phone.

Health officials have announced plans to strengthen regional test and trace powers in England.

In pilot schemes, this has meant that local authorities have been able to visit people at homes where national contact tracers have been unable to reach them.

It comes after criticism that the national system was not tapping into local knowledge.

Now NHS Test and Trace will provide local authorities across England with a dedicated team of contact tracers for local areas.

The Government announced plans to strengthen regional contact tracing so more people can be reached.

NHS Test and Trace, Public Health England and local authorities will be able to work together to ensure more people are reached, the Department for Health and Social Care said.

Officials said that local areas will be given "ring-fenced teams from the national service".

And if the dedicated national team cannot make contact with a person in a set amount of time, the local public health officials can use the data provided by NHS Test and Trace to follow up.

In some pilot areas, this has involved local authority teams visiting people at home.

POLITICS Coronavirus
POLITICS Coronavirus

DHSC added that as the contact tracing system becomes "more locally targeted", NHS Test and Trace will "will reduce current extra capacity and reduce the number of non-NHS call handlers".

There has been criticism that some contact tracers have contacted just a handful of people.

But DHSC said that staff numbers can "quickly scaled up, or down depending on requirements for the national service".

Baroness Dido Harding executive chair of NHS Test and Trace said: "NHS Test and Trace is one of the largest contact tracing and testing systems anywhere in the world, and was built rapidly, drawing on the UK's existing health protection networks, to stop the spread of coronavirus.

"At the height of the pandemic we ensured the system had extra capacity in place to cope with potential peaks in the virus.

"We have always been clear that NHS Test and Trace must be local by default and that we do not operate alone – we work with and through partners across the country.

"As we learn more about the spread of the disease, we are able to move to our planned next step and become even more effective in tackling the virus.

"After successful trials in a small number of local areas, I am very pleased to announce that we are now offering this integrated localised approach to all local authorities to ensure we can reach more people in their communities and stop the spread of Covid-19."

Coronavirus - Fri Jul 17, 2020
Coronavirus - Fri Jul 17, 2020

James Jamieson, chairman of the Local Government Association, added: "This announcement is good news for everyone.

"A strong national and local partnership is critical for test and trace to work as effectively as possible and it is right that local resources are kept under constant review to ensure everyone involved is able to help stop the virus spreading further.

"Using councils' unrivalled local knowledge and vast experience of contact tracing within local public health teams is vital in the Government's national efforts."

All the data from national and local teams will be fed into the same system, DHSC said.

It added that the national service will move from 18,000 to 12,000 contact tracers on August 24 with remaining teams to be deployed as part of dedicated local tracers.

Meanwhile, Public Health England's local health protection teams have doubled in size and will increase further ahead of winter, DHSC added.

It said that there are 200 mobile testing units already in operation and over 200 walk in centres will be opened across the country by October.