Norfolk gets green light for own coronavirus contact tracing team

Louise Smith, director of public health in Norfolk. Picture: Ella Wilkinson

Louise Smith, director of public health in Norfolk. Picture: Ella Wilkinson - Credit: Archant

Coronavirus cases which are not successfully contacted within a day by a national service will be chased up locally, after Norfolk County Council announced it had the green light for a new tracing service.

Banham Poultry has had a coronavirus outbreak. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Banham Poultry has had a coronavirus outbreak. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2018

The Banham Poultry outbreak, which saw more than a hundred workers at the Attleborough factory test positive for Covid-19 led to Norfolk being placed on the national coronavirus watchlist.

But there were concerns over how quickly the national NHS Test and Trace teams were able to get in touch with the workers who tested positive and their contacts.

Public Health England has now approved a move which will mean Norfolk County Council call handlers will be able to step in if initial attempts to trace contacts are not successful after 24 hours.

They will make further attempts to contact cases, including checking local information to clarify and improve data details. The new service then extends out to ground teams at all of the district councils, who can further increase the chances of tracking people down.

Dr Louise Smith, Norfolk County Council’s director of public health, said: “Having the information ourselves will help us identify trends and sharing information at an earlier stage will most definitely speed up the tracing process, and give us early flags around what could become an outbreak.”

Tom McCabe, head of paid service at Norfolk County Council, said: “Our commitment to support locally based contact tracing is the right thing to do to reach out to and protect our communities and businesses. Should we experience further outbreaks, we will be in a better position to prioritise testing.”

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Andrew Proctor, leader of Norfolk County Council and chair of the Norfolk Covid-19 Engagement Board, said: “Speed is of the essence when dealing with a virus, so increasing the performance of contact tracing should mean that more cases are contacted, given advice and support to self-isolate.

“Being proactive will also have a positive effect on the Norfolk economy – quickly identifying and containing the spread of the virus should allow businesses to return to operation as quickly as possible.”

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At the moment the process of tracing is done by Public Health England from their regional team, but more of the effort will move to the local authority.

All data will be entered into a local outbreak management database to allow contact tracers to identify links between referrals and any outbreaks in Norfolk.

Where calls are successful, data on contacts will be uploaded into the national Contact Tracing Administration Service database.

The council says this will improve NHS Test and Trace data on contact tracing and ensure that contacts will be followed up in the normal way by NHS Test and Trace.

Advice for the contact tracing team will be available from a public health officer, who will be available to answer queries, offer advice and, if required, provide access to a public health senior consultant – who has health protection training.

Funding will come from the Government’s Local Outbreak Control Plan allocation for Norfolk, which totals £3.7m. The government said Norfolk would get enhanced support after it was placed on the watchlist.

But there have also been concerns that people have not been able to get tests locally.

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