The approach has already worked in Blackburn, where the local authority has now been able to trace nine out of ten people the national system had previously missed.
But this represents a departure from the government’s original strategy, which only allowed town halls to deal with specific outbreaks, rather than more common cases.
It follows concerns from Greater Manchester and elsewhere about the national system – which has only managed to handle 47% of cases in Oldham according to figures released last week – and stories of contact tracers with no work to do.
Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester had called for any additional capacity to be transferred to the councils, which have proven to be more effective in hijacking people’s information and locating their contacts.
This afternoon, the Department of Health and Social Affairs appeared to confirm that this will happen, while local authorities will also be able to automatically access central data to track cases that have so far escaped the net, another key request.
He said the new approach would provide “dedicated stationed teams” to support local authorities, focusing on specific areas with local directors of public health.
“This integrated national and local system combines specialist local knowledge with the additional resources and data required from the NHS Test and Trace,” the department said.
“It has already been used successfully in Blackburn with Darwen, Luton and Leicester and is now offered to all higher level local authorities responsible for public health at the local level.”
The change of course comes after weeks of concerns among councils about the quality of the national contact tracing system and its ability to locate people.
Some local authorities had set up their own teams to try and find people – and in Blackburn, local director of public health Dominic Harrison said over the weekend he had already managed to find nine out of ten people. missed by the national system.
It also comes amid nervousness over rising infection rates in many parts of the north and the need to tackle the virus before schools reopen in three weeks.
NHS Test and Trace Executive Chairman Dido Harding said: “NHS Test and Trace is one of the largest contact tracing and testing systems in the world, and was built quickly, building on the existing health protection networks in the UK, to stop the spread of coronavirus.
“At the height of the pandemic, we made sure the system had additional capacity to deal with potential spikes in the virus.
“We have always been clear that NHS Test and Trace should be local by default and that we are not doing it alone – we are working with and through partners across the country. As we learn more about the spread of the disease, we are able to take the next planned step and become even more effective at fighting the virus.
“After successful trials in a small number of local areas, I am very happy to report that we are now offering this integrated and localized approach to all local authorities to ensure that we can reach more people in their communities and stop the spread of COVID-19. ”
Andy Burnham said the government has responded to two of its three contact tracing requests.
He welcomed the move to provide more data to the councils, as well as more resources, although ministers have yet to provide financial support for those who cannot afford to isolate themselves.
“With this government announcement today, two of the three appear to have been delivered and, while waiting for full details, I am very happy that they are clearly listening,” he said.
“But they must go further before the schools reopen in September.
“NHS Test and Trace will not function properly until all employees are helped to follow up on its self-isolation requests.
“It is increasingly evident that the people in the lower paying jobs do not cooperate with the system for fear of going into debt.
“That’s why today we launched the Time Out to Help Out campaign – a call to the government to give all employees the opportunity to self-isolate without losing pay.
“It is only by ending the wage penalty that we will see the NHS Test and Trace come closer to the ‘global’ service we were promised. If we don’t, our poorest communities will be at real risk of harm this winter.