In Blackburn with Darwen, where officials are grappling with a ‘rising tide’ of cases, only 44% of the 799 close contacts of someone with coronavirus were successfully contacted by call managers, according to analysis by Harrison. In Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale and St Helens, less than half of those at risk had been affected.
The Government’s Science Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) told ministers in May that any delay beyond 48 to 72 hours to isolate contact from an infected person would lead to a significant increase in the local infection rate, adding : “The sooner it’s done, the better. ”
Harrison said it was essential that the test and trace system be improved to prevent an exponential growth in cases. “If more of the contact tracing was done at the local authority level, I am convinced that we could significantly improve this contact tracing rate,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Broadcasting House program.
Matt Hancock, the Secretary of Health, is expected this week to allow local authorities to access the crucial “nominative patient data” they have been asking for for weeks in another big government shift.
Local public health directors said their ability to track down the virus had been hampered by the lack of timely and detailed information from the government’s ‘pillar 2’ testing program in England, in which anyone can be. swab tested.
Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, said that people would be “extremely concerned” about the test and trace data from the north-west and that the government should react urgently. He added: “We are headed straight for a dangerous winter without a vaccine and it is absolutely essential that we see action now to fill these gaping holes in the test and trace system.
“It is precisely for this reason that we have pushed very hard for the publication of data on appointed patients and it is good that the government has finally accepted this. But boards shouldn’t have to pick up parts for an expensive outsourced system that costs £ 10 billion. ”
Burnham also called on Hancock to address the Commons on Monday to correct the case, after the Health Secretary said last Tuesday that “identifiable patient data” was available to local authorities if they signed a health protection agreement. data.
“All the public health experts I know tell me that the Secretary of Health’s statement in the House of Commons was incorrect,” said Burnham. “This is proven by the fact that Public Health England only agreed to provide data on the named patients on about the last day. At a time like this, precision matters. ”
Harrison’s analysis found that many local authority areas with the highest infection rate per 100,000 population also had “some of the lowest rates of completed traces of contact.” “The implications are obvious,” he warned in an internal note reported by the Independent on Sunday.
The analysis highlights a fundamental problem within the national test and traceability system, which has been attributed to private companies, including Serco, and executed in parallel with centralized tests in the network of Lighthouse laboratories set up to support the fight against Covid-19.
The close contacts of an infected person will be contacted by SMS, e-mail or called up to 10 times by contact tracers. However, if they do not answer or divert calls, there is little that the test and follow-up system can do. Without data on named patients, boards are unable to conduct a door-knocking exercise that is likely to be more successful.
Burnham said the problem was further compounded by the fact that many people in the poorest communities “simply cannot afford to be isolated” and that this could contribute to the low success rate of the contacts. He called on the government to increase statutory sickness benefits from £ 95.85 a week to earnings, and to extend it to all workers, including those on zero-hour contracts.
The Department of Health and Welfare said the tests and traces had helped isolate more than 180,000 cases and that it was working closely with local authorities in England to help manage local outbreaks, including in sharing data daily.
He added, “We urge anyone with symptoms to get tested for coronavirus as soon as possible, to isolate themselves, and you shouldn’t leave the house unless it is for testing. The service is based on the fact that everyone plays their part. Please book a test if you have symptoms, self-isolate and help us locate people you have been in contact with. “