Government must give local councils details of coronavirus spikes more quickly, says BMA

Meanwhile, leading health academic Professor Sir Chris Ham urged the Government to give local councils control over NHS Test and Trace.

He said there were “serious questions about value for money” when the 90 per cent of people contacted because of contact with a coronavirus case were being reached by public health teams rather than by the central system. 

Writing in the BMJ, Sir Chris, the former chief executive of the King’s Fund health think tank said:  “In the case of contact tracing, most of the work is now being done by regional teams in Public Health England and local health protection teams led by directors of public health employed by local authorities.” 

“Recent statistics show that, in its first three weeks of operation, NHS Test and Trace reached around 113,925 people who were in contact with those who tested positive, of whom around 90 per cent were traced by Public Health England and local health protection teams.

“The remainder – amounting to just 12,247 people – were reached by the national telephone-based service run by Serco and Sitel, which employs around 25,000 staff. This raises serious questions about value for money in the use of public resources in a contract reported to be worth up to £108 million.

“In my view, bringing these staff under the control of local authorities is overdue.”

The national programme has been repeatedly criticised amid claims that its 25,000 call handlers have been given too few cases to deal with, with some working for weeks without a single person to contact.

There has also been criticism that those at risk of coronavirus are not being contacted quickly enough, leaving the spread of the disease unchecked. 

Sir Chris wrote: “A crisis on the scale of the Covid-19 pandemic requires a national response. But in a country as large and diverse as the United Kingdom, where the impact of the virus varies between areas, a national response is insufficient.

“A major weakness in the Government’s handling of the crisis has been its failure to recognise and value local expertise. Local leaders, including devolved governments and elected mayors, are much better placed than the Westminster Government to engage their communities in limiting and responding to future outbreaks.

“To do so effectively, these leaders must be given control of Test and Trace to rectify the flaws in the Government’s ill-judged design.”

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