Frustration at test and trace sees councils go it alone to contact potential coronavirus sufferers

The Department of Health and Social Care said it was working closely with local authorities and had “assigned a ring-fenced group of NHS contact tracers to follow up positive cases” in Blackburn with Darwen. Council workers are assigned to knock on doors in cases where such efforts fail. 

Officials in Greater Manchester are understood to be considering taking similar steps.

During its lockdown, Leicester introduced door-to-door testing because of anxiety that too few people were coming forward for tests.  

Sandwell Council, in the West Midlands, last week became the first local authority to set up its own system after its public health director, Lisa McNally, said the national system was failing.

She said the council was contacting cases as soon as they came in, rather than “waiting for test and trace to fail to reach them”.  

Under the NHS Test and Trace programme, call handlers aim to make contact with all infected people and their contacts to advise them to self-isolate. But if they cannot make contact after 10 calls, they are advised to move on to the next case.

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) has said Test and Trace needs to reach at least 80 per cent of contacts of positive cases within 48 hours to be effective.

Currently, roughly 80 per cent of those who test positive are reached by contact tracers, with around the same proportion handing over details of contacts. Of those, around three quarters of contacts are reached – equating to overall coverage of 50 per cent. 

On Monday, scientists warned that the reopening of schools and associated opening of society could see a second wave worst than the first if this performance is not boosted. 

The moves by local councils reflects growing frustration among local health officials with the national test and trace system, launched in May.

The NHS system, run by the former TalkTalk executive Dido Harding, involves more than 20,000 contact tracers employed by private firms such as Serco and Sitel.

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