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Government must give local councils details of coronavirus spikes more quickly, says BMA

Doctors have urged the Government to hand over data about coronavirus spikes more swiftly in the wake of the Leicester lockdown

The British Medical Association (BMA) implored the Government to ensure that local councils are given timely information about cases in their area to help contain the spread of the virus.

Meanwhile the Government’s Test and Trace programme came under fire after it emerged that it is only handling around one in 10 of the cases which need contact tracing.

It comes after ministers faced criticism for the handling of the surge of cases in Leicester.

Councils have said they are not being given data showing rises in infections, making it impossible for them to take swift action. 

Published data breaking down cases geographically only shows results from hospital tests, and local leaders have said that means they are not being updated about sudden surges in the community (you can check your area using the tool below).

On Wednesday, the BMA urged the Government to share “timely, comprehensive and reliable” information to all those involved in the management of new cases at a local level. It also called for clarity about how regional spikes will be managed in future.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the chairman of the BMA Council, said: “The Prime Minister has talked about a ‘whack a mole’ strategy to tackle local outbreaks – but this is no use if the people leading the response on the ground, be they public health teams or local leaders, are not given the most accurate, up-to-date data possible.

“This is crucial to allow swift action and protect lives and the health service, and something that is not happening right now.

“This is all the more important given that the ‘world leading’ Test and Trace app is not in place, meaning local leaders and teams armed with up-to-date information will be vital in containing spread of outbreaks.”

Ahead of lockdown restrictions being eased further at the weekend, the BMA made a series of demands of the Government.

These include the use of set “metric trigger points” at which action will be taken to reintroduce local and national restrictions, which would take into consideration the regional reproductive rate – known as the ‘R’ rate – as well as the level of infections in communities.

The BMA also stressed the importance of clear public health messaging that social distancing and infection control procedures should be adhered to.

Meanwhile, leading health academic Professor Sir Chris Ham urged the Government to give local councils control over NHS Test and Trace.

He said there were “serious questions about value for money” when the 90 per cent of people contacted because of contact with a coronavirus case were being reached by public health teams rather than by the central system. 

Writing in the BMJ, Sir Chris, the former chief executive of the King’s Fund health think tank said:  “In the case of contact tracing, most of the work is now being done by regional teams in Public Health England and local health protection teams led by directors of public health employed by local authorities.” 

“Recent statistics show that, in its first three weeks of operation, NHS Test and Trace reached around 113,925 people who were in contact with those who tested positive, of whom around 90 per cent were traced by Public Health England and local health protection teams.

“The remainder – amounting to just 12,247 people – were reached by the national telephone-based service run by Serco and Sitel, which employs around 25,000 staff. This raises serious questions about value for money in the use of public resources in a contract reported to be worth up to £108 million.

“In my view, bringing these staff under the control of local authorities is overdue.”

The national programme has been repeatedly criticised amid claims that its 25,000 call handlers have been given too few cases to deal with, with some working for weeks without a single person to contact.

There has also been criticism that those at risk of coronavirus are not being contacted quickly enough, leaving the spread of the disease unchecked. 

Sir Chris wrote: “A crisis on the scale of the Covid-19 pandemic requires a national response. But in a country as large and diverse as the United Kingdom, where the impact of the virus varies between areas, a national response is insufficient.

“A major weakness in the Government’s handling of the crisis has been its failure to recognise and value local expertise. Local leaders, including devolved governments and elected mayors, are much better placed than the Westminster Government to engage their communities in limiting and responding to future outbreaks.

“To do so effectively, these leaders must be given control of Test and Trace to rectify the flaws in the Government’s ill-judged design.”

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