London boroughs ‘stand ready to help with test and trace’

A number of leading London boroughs are in detailed discussions with the Government on how they can bring their expertise, knowledge and contacts to the table in order to launch a trial of a ‘test and trace’ system as soon as possible.

Camden, Hackney, Barnet and Newham Councils have been named today as part of a group of councils who will share best practice with others. The aim of their work is to help identify future coronavirus outbreaks and take action to stop the disease spreading in order to get the infection under control and save lives.

Georgia Gould, Leader of Camden Council, said: “We stand ready to help with test and trace. Local government is uniquely positioned to make this work – we have deep, long-standing connections with our communities and expertise and adaptability on our front-line, London boroughs are ready to work together to support our community.

“Throughout this crisis we have provided care and shielding support to the most vulnerable adults in our communities. However, we know nationally that this virus has had a devastating and unequal impact on BAME communities – local government understands the strength and diversity of our communities, and we are clear that this test and trace system must be designed to ensure no-one gets left behind.”

Rokhsana Fiaz, Mayor of Newham, said: ‘Councils have a vital role to play in the track and trace response to Covid-19, because like any communicable disease, it is best understood as a pattern of local outbreaks rather than a national pandemic with similar impact in every community. So I’m pleased that a bigger role for councils has been recognised. In Newham, we have the highest Covid-19 mortality rate in the country because of deprivation and health inequality, as well as being the most diverse borough in the UK.

“I know that Covid-19 is not an equalising virus, because it has a disproportionate effect on poorer communities and ethnic minorities. So it’s right that we are a central part of London’s outbreak management plans with Camden, Barnet and Hackney; and intend to play a full role to delay the spread of the virus in the Capital, prevent a second wave and save lives.”

Philip Glanville, Mayor of Hackney said: “I'm glad that our call, alongside our MPs, for local authorities to be more involved in the planning and response to the pandemic has now been heard. Through localised test and trace across these London boroughs, we will be able to offer our local knowledge and expertise to support the Government's efforts to reduce the spread of the virus. Especially to help those who are most marginalised and vulnerable.

"Hackney is ready to hit the ground running, as we have shown in the face of previous public health issues such as measles outbreaks, and what we have done in terms of the humanitarian response to coronavirus. We can mobilise our partners and communities quickly, working together in order to combat disease.

“As councils we have the public health capability and expertise, as well as credibility with our local communities to work with and support the needs of our diverse boroughs in the face of this pandemic."

Dr Tamara Djuretic, director of public health for Barnet Council, said: “Barnet Council is delighted to play an important role in shaping the interface between local, regional and national architecture for the test, trace and test programme. Successful, whole-system response to testing and contact tracing will be crucial in this phase of the pandemic, in order to prevent or minimise spread of the infection and further peak.

“We will bring our experience of managing local outbreaks in care settings and good insight on how to communicate risks and best engage and connect with diverse communities in Barnet.”

Local government is uniquely positioned to help lend five key skills:

  • Expertise – Environmental Heath and Public Health teams have training and experience in dealing with outbreaks of infectious diseases including salmonella and E.coli and know how to put safety measures in place to control localised outbreaks, while councils deliver key services day in day out to care for vulnerable people.
  • Capacity – while a response to disease outbreaks is generally lead by Public Health England, Public Health teams work closely with their national partners and can provide vital capacity in terms of professional expertise in cases of a widespread outbreak such as coronavirus

  • Community – Councils are best placed to understand their communities and have a whole network of relationships spanning businesses, community and voluntary sector organisations and public partners to make a localised approach work.

  • Communications – These networks and partnerships, an active local press and a strong participation culture in London, are a real asset to the councils’ communications strategies, which include micro-targeting of public health messages to reach specific demographics of its population.

  • Data – Councils hold a large amount of data about demographic make-up and data obtained through its support for residents. Stringently following data protection and privacy laws, this data could help give real insights into trends or disproportionate effects of any outbreak.

The national coronavirus test and tracing service is intended to be delivered through a three tier model. It will combine digital and phone-based contact tracing to identify cases and their close contacts so they can rapidly self-isolate (. More complex outbreaks and situations will be handled in London by the London Coronavirus Response Cell, which will co-ordinate complex outbreak and contact tracing with regional Health Protection Teams, Local Authority Directors of Public Health, and Environmental Health services.

Key immediate areas for the London boroughs to focus on will include arrangements and operating protocols for:

  • responding to and managing outbreaks in care homes, schools and other residential and communal settings, working very closely with colleagues in Public Health England;

  • ensuring there is an ongoing offer of support to those residents who will need to isolate if they are a case or a contact of a case, if they need practical help with things like food, and medicines

  • access to the necessary data in a timely way to understand the distribution of coronavirus in our borough, so we can respond quickly and appropriately;

  • strong focus on engaging and communicating with our communities, businesses and organisations across the borough so they know how to access testing, contact tracing and follow public health advice during this next pandemic phase – being very mindful of our diverse communities and disproportionate impacts.