Calls for test and trace to be handed over to local officials after failures of national system

By Rachael Burford, Local Democracy Reporter

Frustration over failings in the Government’s test and trace system have been aired after London leaders called for their own teams to take over tracking people potentially infected with Covid.

Hammersmith and Fulham said its experts were doing a better job than that being achieved through the Government’s efforts and play a vital role in suppressing the spread of the virus.

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, much of which is outsourced to private company Serco.

Lambeth council’s leader Jack Hopkins also voiced his displeasure.

He said: “We have given up hope the Government will bring about a “world beating” system, we are arguing for them to give local councils in London the money and responsibility as we are more confident of delivering a system that works.

“Without that in place now, nationally we are in danger of losing control of the spread of the virus.”

Hammersmith and Fulham said that its own team was reaching more than 75 per cent of people the Government system has been unable to contact, and was 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, that calls and knocks on people’s doors, 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 straight away. We started early and have really comprehensive data from our own tracing.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “We are working hand-in-hand with Directors of Public Health and local contract tracing is now live in 95 local authorities across the country.

“NHS Test and Trace is breaking chains of transmission thanks to local and national teams working hand in glove – over 900,000 people who may otherwise have unknowingly spread coronavirus have been contacted and told to isolate.

“We are reaching the majority of people testing positive and their contacts and are providing tests at an unprecedented scale, with capacity being expanding further to 500,000 tests a day by the end of October.”

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