"With time running out, it is vitally important that the Government extends part of the Contain Outbreak Management Fund. This will allow councils to respond to new variants, tackle outbreaks in at-risk settings and recruit and retain vital public health staff. "
Councils and Directors of Public Health are calling for an urgent extension of local outbreak management funding due to rising rates of COVID-19.
As delegates meet on the second day of their Annual Public Health Conference, the Local Government Association (LGA) – who represent councils in England and Wales – are warning that without the funding extension councils will not have the capacity to tackle rising rates of community transmission and future variants due to a loss of relevant expertise.
The Government’s Contain Outbreak Management Fund (COMF), which has provided £400 million in funding to local authorities in England during the pandemic to help them reduce the spread of coronavirus and support local public health, is set to end next week and the Government has not committed to a replacement.
This will not need to be at the scale seen during the pandemic but investment will be vital to retain local capacity to respond to the differential impacts of variants and outbreaks across the country, building on local knowledge and existing infrastructure.
Although serious illness and death have reduced due to higher levels of immunity, infection rates are rising across the country and councils are continuing to tackle outbreaks in at-risk settings such as care homes in an attempt to reduce hospitalisation rates.
Councils and local Directors of Public Health have previously warned of growing workforce gaps, with over half of councils reporting disruption to public health services due to staffing shortages. Councils are concerned that with funding uncertainty, it will be hard to recruit and retain staff and they risk losing crucial local expertise built over the last two years.
The LGA is calling on the Government to support councils to address workforce gaps bought on by the pandemic, particularly in the care and public health sectors.
Cllr David Fothergill, Chairman of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board, said:
“Although vaccination now means many can live a more normal existence alongside the virus, it is clear that COVID-19 is not going away, with community transmission still rising in many parts of the country.
“There will need to be a continuing role for councils and their public health teams as we move to a new phase of this pandemic. Although this won’t require the same level of funding as the Government has provided so far, they will need ongoing funding support.
“With time running out, it is vitally important that the Government extends part of the Contain Outbreak Management Fund. This will allow councils to respond to new variants, tackle outbreaks in at-risk settings and recruit and retain vital public health staff.
“Using their local knowledge and contacts, councils have demonstrated that they are best placed to trace hard-to-reach cases whilst also tackling vaccine hesitancy in local communities. They have played a vital role in preventing the transmission of coronavirus and are keen to continue to work with UK Health and Security Agency (UKHSA) and the Government as we move to this new phase of the pandemic.”