Local test and trace beats national system - reaching almost all contacts

The head of national test and trace Baroness Dido Harding during a media briefing in Downing Street,

The head of national test and trace Baroness Dido Harding during a media briefing in Downing Street, London. Photograph: PA/Downing St.

Local test and trace teams are vastly outperforming the national system, sparking calls to give councils more money and powers.

Postwick Covid-19 testing centre. Date: 25 Oct 2020. Picture: Mike Page

Postwick Covid-19 testing centre. Date: 25 Oct 2020. Picture: Mike Page - Credit: Mike Page

Figures show tracing teams run by local public health teams are reaching 97pc of contacts of people who test positive for coronavirus.

In contrast the national equivalent, which has been outsourced to private companies at a cost of £12bn, has badly struggled.

Led by Baroness Dido Harding, it is currently reaching around 60pc of contacts, meaning each week tens of thousands of cases are being missed.

In Norfolk the numbers are better. It has reached 86pc of contacts of those infected in the county - one of the highest amounts in the country.


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Since launching in May, 2,133 people out of 2,466 referred to it have been contacted. In Suffolk and Cambridgeshire the numbers are 79pc and 81pc.

The government’s panel of scientific advisors has said eight in 10 contacts must be reached quickly to stop the spread.

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In its latest report, Test and Trace said “almost all contacts” managed by local teams were being reached. However, the majority of cases are being handled nationally rather than locally.

In Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire the national system is dealing with two thirds of cases.

Mid Norfolk Conservative MP George Freeman called for test and trace to be given to local councils after the outbreak at Banham Poultry in Attleborough in August.

He reiterated his call this week and said before voting on Wednesday for the new national lockdown, he wanted to see a government plan for restoring local powers.

Alex Stewart, from patient group Healthwatch Norfolk, said it was still hearing stories of people waiting a long time to get tested.

“The local system is working very well and public health have done a sterling job, but we are concerned the national system is not,” he said. “It is being run by an accountancy firm (Deloitte) who do not understand local geography.”

Prime minister Boris Johnson admitted for the first time in October that test and trace needed to improve.

Ceri Sumner, Norfolk County Council Directory of Community, Information and Learning, said: “The success we have had has exceeded our expectations given we are tracing cases which the national system has been unable to contact.

“This is the result of partnership working across the county and all district councils, using local intelligence and a combination of approaches to make contact whether that be by phone or through face-to-face visits.

“Overall, we have managed to contact more than 70pc of cases so far, identifying approximately two additional close or direct contacts per case when dealing with the vast majority of the general public.”

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