Cllr Rezina Chowdhury is a councillor in Streatham Hill ward.
It’s been over 10 months since the country first went into Lockdown and 8 months since the so called “world beating system” of track and trace was launched in England. We’re all used to this inadequate PM over promising and under delivering, so it’s no surprise that the country still does not have an adequate testing and tracing system.
Experts have stated that to be effective, contact tracing needs to be managed and carried out at a local level by people with expertise in public health.
However, instead of funding local bodies, this government has squandered billions of pounds of public money on a privatized and outsourced system that has contributed to the multiple failures to contain the virus and ultimately to an increased loss of life and economic damage.
Rather belatedly, NHS Test and Trace realise that local participation is needed if it is to improve its performance and have woken up to the fact that local authorities can deal with COVID positive cases that NHS Test and Trace cannot reach.
While this is a welcome step, it doesn’t go far enough. The national system is still failing to reach large numbers of people named as contacts. The Government’s Sage group advised that 80% of contacts need to be reached and asked to isolate if the transmission of the virus is to be suppressed.
The most promising solution by far is for full control of contact tracing to be passed to local authorities and Public Health partners, along with the required funding and resources needed to help people to isolate. As the Independent SAGE report advocated as far back as June ‘the most effective implementation of FTTIS (Find, Test, Trace, Isolate, Support) is led locally through integrated services coordinated by Directors of Public Health’.
Lambeth Council launched its own local contact tracing service on 5th November 2020, which means we can contact those residents that the national service has not been able to reach. Most importantly, it means we can support residents to access additional support to self-isolate if required. On top of that, we have mother tongue speaking contact tracers, a really important asset as language can be a barrier to engaging in contact tracing for some.
The local scheme has improved contact tracing, enabled increased and targeted testing, including asymptomatic testing and also be better integrated into existing Council COVID support services. It will be shown to be more cost-effective, achieve greater community and GP involvement and allow for the engagement of local volunteers.
As central government fumbles and drops the ball yet again during this pandemic it is once again left to Labour in local government – showing the kind of leadership needed – to demonstrate how services delivered hand in hand with local people can get us through this crisis.
Cllr Rezina Chowdhury