Public Health Suffolk takes on full responsibility of Covid contact tracing

Ipswich town centre Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

The national Covid-19 test and trace services has transferred responsibility to Public Health Suffolk - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Suffolk's Public Health team has taken on responsibility for all aspects of Covid-19 track and trace services in the county from the national team, it has emerged.

James Reeder, Suffolk County Council's cabinet member for public health confirmed the transfer of responsibility from the national to the local system began on Monday.

It represents one of 17 authorities in the country to takeover responsibility from the controversial test and trace scheme administered nationally.

Conservative cabinet member for public health at Suffolk County Council, James Reeder

Conservative cabinet member for public health at Suffolk County Council, James Reeder - Credit: Suffolk County Council

Mr Reeder said: "As of last Monday, Stuart Keeble our director public health and his team have taken on responsibility for contact tracing all cases in Suffolk from the national system.

"Building on their track record of contact tracing 90% of 6,000 cases and contacts over the last six months.

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"Our strategy here in Suffolk has always been to develop our own localised response when it makes sense to do so, which now includes the network of 28 community rapid testing sites, which have undertaken 31,000 tests in the last month."

Up until this week, the national system managed 85-90% of all contact tracing in Suffolk, while the local teams have taken on cases which the national system has failed to make contact with or more difficult cases where on-the-ground expertise is needed.

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The national scheme has come under fire for the huge costs involved when local efforts were proving more successful. Up to October around £4billion had been spent from an allocated first year budget of £22bn for the system.

While no additional funding has been made available to Public Health Suffolk for those responsibilities, national support funds to assist with the pandemic are being used for the scheme.

Anthony Dooley

Anthony Dooley from UNITE's Suffolk branch - Credit: Archant

Data for the national teams' success rate in Suffolk has not been disclosed, but the success rate of the local teams has been between 87% and 92%.

A spokeswoman from the Department for Health and Social Care said: "NHS Test and Trace works extremely closely with local partners. Since last year we have used specialist local expertise combined with the national data and resources of NHS Test and Trace.

"To date, over 300 local authorities have joined forces with NHS Test and Trace to launch local tracing partnerships, and together with local authorities, we are successfully reaching almost 90% of people who’ve tested positive for coronavirus and 93% of their close contacts.

“We have also launched a new pilot with local authorities, including Suffolk, which is a joint initiative between national and local government that will help to reach individuals who have tested positive sooner.”

Anthony Dooley, secretary from the Suffolk UNITE union who questioned Mr Reeder on whether the council would lobby national government over its private contracts for test and trace, said it was an important development.

He added: "This, in effect, rejection of the discredited privatised national scheme could well be duplicated in other areas where the evidence is local publicly provided services are not only more effective they are much cheaper. Profit is removed from the process."

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