Opposition Day Debate: Local contact tracing, House of Commons, 14 October 2020

The most recent test and trace figures prove again that councils’ public health teams, with their unique expertise and understanding of their communities, have more success in reaching complex close contacts of positive cases, where NHS Test and Trace has been unable to do so.


Key messages

  • Since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold earlier in the year, the LGA has been consistently making the case for councils to have necessary powers, resources and authority to be able to lead the response locally and tackle outbreaks swiftly and effectively.
  • Experience of the test and trace system to date has shown the advantages local authorities have over national systems in being able to identify those who have been exposed to COVID-19 and working with their communities to slow and stop community transmission.
  • The most recent test and trace figures prove again that councils’ public health teams, with their unique expertise and understanding of their communities, have more success in reaching complex close contacts of positive cases, where NHS Test and Trace has been unable to do so. We estimate that local contact tracing systems have a 97.1 per cent success rate at finding close contacts and advising them to self-isolate, compared to 68.6 per cent of close contacts reached by national Test and Trace. The Government is right to recognise the urgent need to build upon these successful local efforts to address the current inadequacies of the national scheme.
  • Many councils have or will shortly launch their own locally supported contact tracing arrangements. To build upon these local efforts and reduce the spread of infection, councils need clearer, more precise information on who they should be trying to contact as soon as possible. This should include details such as occupation and workplace, working with police and others to share local intelligence, alongside the right resources including funding and recruiting extra personnel to work on the ground and respond quickly to outbreaks.
  • Driving strong local action and effective contact tracing will add further pressure to already over-stretched council budgets. While we are pleased Government will provide much-needed additional funding for areas at alert level 3 and that councils will also benefit from a further £1 billion relating to wider COVID-19 cost pressures, it is not clear whether the savings made in the last two months by reducing the number of contact tracers in the national arrangements from 18,000 to 10,000 will be passed on to councils. We await further details on whether the additional funding for areas on alert level 3 is expected to cover local contact tracing activity, and what funding might be available to councils outside alert level 3 for contact tracing so they prevent their areas being classified at alert level 3.
  • Should there be a roll out of a COVID-19 vaccine, this will bring with it a further set of challenges both in terms of logistics and ensuring the vaccine is available to those who need it, including our critical social care staff and others providing essential local services. It is now critical that councils are given long-term sustainable funding to effectively carry out this leading role in supporting their local communities and the national effort to defeat this disease.

Contact

Jade Hall, Public Affairs and Campaigns Adviser

Email: jade.hall@local.gov.uk