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Suffolk plans own test-and-trace system – as figures reveal dozens of contacts are not followed up

PUBLISHED: 05:30 05 August 2020 | UPDATED: 10:35 05 August 2020

Suffolk is set to start its own test and trace system  Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

Suffolk is set to start its own test and trace system Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

Charlotte Bond

Suffolk looks set to roll out its own test-and-trace system which public health chiefs say could operate independently of the government’s national scheme if required, we can reveal.

SCC Cllr James Reeder  Picture: SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCILSCC Cllr James Reeder Picture: SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL

Latest contact tracing figures for the county, up to July 24, show that 131 (39%) of the 342 people identified as contacts of confirmed cases had not been followed up.

At 61%, Suffolk’s success rate for ‘completing’ contacts – contacting, registering and giving advice – is higher than the national average of 54%.

But Suffolk County Council’s public health team is now looking to develop a new system, which would work alongside the national scheme and use local knowledge to narrow the gap even further.

Such a system could take on a standalone role if required, SCC chiefs said.

James Reeder, SCC’s Conservative cabinet member for public health and prevention, added: “We recognise the importance of contact tracing for eliminating the spread of the virus in Suffolk, the flexible resources we are developing will enable us to deploy local contact tracing capacity when we identify a need.

“The contact-and-trace system being developed in Suffolk will complement and work alongside the national system to enable us to reach more contacts of coronavirus cases locally.”

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (Covid-19). Photo: PA Video/PA WirePrime Minister Boris Johnson during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (Covid-19). Photo: PA Video/PA Wire

Under the proposed model, SCC would be able to employ local knowledge to follow up with contacts not reached by the national scheme.

Senior staff who will be responsible for delivering a new test-and-trace system in the county have already been recruited, council chiefs added, with additional roles set to be advertised throughout August and September.

MORE: Latest coronavirus infection rates show rise in Suffolk

The proposals, which will need to be finalised by Public Health England, come amid growing frustrations elsewhere over the effectiveness of the government’s national NHS test-and-trace system.

Yesterday Blackburn with Darwen, one of England’s worst-hit areas for infection rates, announced it would be setting up its own contact tracing scheme.

Dominic Harrison, the council’s public health director, expressed fears that the Government’s scheme – which uses more than 20,000 tracers – was “simply not tracing enough contacts and cases fast enough”.

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Helen Armitage, SCC’s Labour group spokeswoman for health, claimed the national tracing system has emerged as being far from “world-beating”, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed it.

Cllr Helen Armitage   Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNCllr Helen Armitage Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Backing SCC’s bid for a local system, she added: “Forty percent of contacts not being reached in Suffolk is totally unacceptable.

“Until we get a working vaccine, an effective contact tracing system is essential to control local outbreaks.”

A Government spokeswoman said 218,000 people have so far been reached by the NHS test and trace programme, with 75% of contacts reached last week.

Bosses said they have been engaging positively with SCC’s public health team.

She added: “Our priority is to curb the spread of this virus and save lives, and local action to tackle outbreaks and keep people safe is a crucial part of the national service.

“We continue to work closely with all local authorities and are providing targeted, additional support where needed.”

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