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Town Hall chiefs today called for their own teams to take over the national test and trace system, claiming they could do a better job than the Government.
With frustration over the failings of the Government system boiling over, some councils have set up their own local tracing programmes to locate those who have tested positive for coronavirus and people they could have infected.
Both Hammersmith and Fulham and Hackney said their teams had outperformed the national operation and had “a better understanding of what’s going on locally”. Their demands follow continued dismay at slow testing times and the relatively low number of people being traced in time under the official Whitehall-run scheme.
Some local councils have retrained restaurant inspectors and other officers to work alongside local public health teams to find those who have tested positive.
The latest official figures, covering the first week of this month, show that the Government’s system failed to contact more than one in five of those testing positive during the seven-day period. It also managed to reach just 63 per cent of the close contacts of people who had tested positive.
By contrast, Hammersmith and Fulham said that its team is reaching more than 75 per cent of people the Government system has been unable to contact and is now speaking to between 30 and 50 people per day.
Its figures show that the national track and trace system has referred 317 infected people who it could not find in the past month to the borough. Hammersmith and Fulham’s team has contacted 254 of those.
The local authority has retrained its environmental health officers as tracers and is implementing its own reverse contact tracing system, which shows exactly where people in the borough are catching the virus.
Stephen Cowan, the council’s leader, said: “We are reaching more people than the Government and we have a better understanding of what’s going on locally. Our team isn’t just telling people they have the virus, we are doing welfare checks and getting to the bottom of where they believe they caught it. The Government should have got local councils on board straightaway. We started early and have really comprehensive data from our own tracing.”
Hackney council tracers have also managed to achieve success where the national system has failed.
The borough, which says it could expand its work if given more funding, has been passed 356 contacts from the national test and trace system since September 22. It has contacted almost half using six dedicated tracers and is now training eight more.
Hackney’s Chris Kennedy added: “All councils have their own public health department which knows its communities and is used to tracking virus. In the last few years we have tracked a measles outbreak, and outbreaks of sexually transmitted diseases.
“There is no reason this should not be done at a local level.” Other councils have also called for funding to allow them to use their knowledge and teams to run the tracking system — which relies on calls and online contacting — and insist that they could boost its effectiveness.
A Department of Health spokesman said: “We are working with public health directors and local contract tracing is live in 95 local authorities. We are breaking chains of transmission with local and national teams working hand in glove.”