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Peterborough: 'Critical' to get Covid-19 test and trace scheme correct

The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Health and Wellbeing Board has met as part of the National Test and Trace scheme to help prevent a second spike of the coronavirus.
'Critical' to get covid19 test correct. Photo: Pixabay

The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Health and Wellbeing Board has met as part of the National Test and Trace scheme to help prevent a second spike of the coronavirus.

The  online meeting was called (Monday) and stated: “It is absolutely critical that we get this right.”

Addressing fellow Board members, Dr Liz Robin, Director of Public Health said: “The Local Outbreak Control Plan describes the work that we will deliver locally as our part of the national Test and Trace model.

“We have to get the processes in place to identify and manage local outbreaks of COVID-19 as part of the gradual relaxation of lockdown. Test and Trace and local outbreak plans are necessary to move us back towards our ‘new normal’, but they are not sufficient alone.

“We need to continue to observe the social distancing and hygiene measures that the government is asking us to do.

“Our Local Outbreak Control Plan is due for submission to national government, and we’ve been allocated approximately £3.5m across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough to deliver it.

“One of the principles of our Local Outbreak Control Plan is that it should build on existing local systems to protect health and manage outbreaks of infectious disease.

“To do that, we work across the entire Public Health England team – which is regional for the East of England – including local authority public health teams, environmental health officers and others.

“We have strong local systems already in place, recognised by government that are used to manage Tuberculosis, Norovirus, Meningitis and all sorts of other outbreaks of infectious diseases and we can build upon these to manage COVID-19.

“Work on our Local Outbreak Control Plan started on May 22, bringing together a multi-agency group who identified the work that needed to be done in order to delivery effective surveillance and control of local outbreaks of COVID-19. This is very real it’s very serious – we all know that – we must make this work in practice”.

Cllr Linda Jones (Labour, Cambridge City Council) asked: “Are we confident that our testing processes are capable of coping with the needs should there be a second spike and how quickly are we able to react to a local outbreak of COVID-19 as these are critical elements in defeating the virus?”.

Dr Robin replied: “Timely reporting to combat the virus is critical and we’re very aware that speed is of the essence having watched the infection rates grow very quickly in the earlier phases of the pandemic before lockdown.

“The Test and Trace system reports rapidly through to the Public Health England team using a single email address and a single reporting phone number.

“Everyday surveillance meetings are held with the Clinical Commissioning Group, the Local Authority and Public Health Business Intelligence Teams who then analyse that data giving us a very good early warning system of any potential local outbreak.

“As an example, if a report comes through of an outbreak in a care home and they call Public Health England to report it, that information is passed immediately to a specific ‘care home cell’ to deal with that outbreak and the same is true of a workplace or a school.

“In terms of testing capacity, we have more than is needed because we’re at a low level of COVID-19 in the population at the moment.

“This is a good thing because if we see a second spike of COVID-19 in the population then we’ll need that additional testing capacity so its good to know it’s there.

“The concern locally is whether we can get the tests done in the right place at the right time to get the results turned around quickly. But just to reassure the public, results are now getting turned around much more quickly both at a national and local level than in the past, so that 24-72 hours is commonplace and it’s improving all the time. Locally we can get tests turned around within 24 hours.

“Large parts of our region are rural; people may not have easy access to a car or public transport or even to the internet. The plan identifies these issues and because of that we have teams ready to react rapidly to rural needs should there be a breakout.

“The best rapid local testing capacity at the moment is in two places: the service commissioned by the CCG which can out very rapidly to outbreaks in care homes, prisons or homeless hostels sending tests to local labs and get them turned around very quickly.

“The other thing that can be done when perhaps more swabs are needed are the military-led mobile units which can be rapidly brought into action within 24-48 hours’ notice of an outbreak”.

Cllr Simon Bywater (Conservative, Huntingdonshire District Council) said: “You’ve said that communication with the public is vital in this process, yet Board members can only come together relatively slowly so I’d like to know how we can be expected to pass communication rapidly to the public so that they remain properly and fully informed?”.

Dr Robin replied: “Communication to the public is absolutely critical as it was the public that stopped the first wave of COVID-19 by adhering to the social distancing rules throughout lock-down.

“Yes, we needed a little bit of enforcement along the way, but the vast majority of the public knew how serious and vital it was to obey the rules and defeat the virus and the only way they could do that was if they were informed what to do and perhaps more importantly, what not to do. The same will be true of the second spike if it comes.

“When, all that we have to fight this pandemic are public health measures – we don’t have a vaccine we don’t have a cure – then its’ exactly those public health measures and how people behave that will make all the difference.

“Therefore, one of the first strategies we put in place was our public communications team focussing on where an outbreak occurs and how to inform the community what they need to do.

“Community understanding, trust and mobilisation when necessary is absolutely key and each local engagement member board can be called at 24-hours’ notice if there is a major issue”.

Cllr Susan Van de Ven (LibDems, South Cambridgeshire District Council) said: “I would like to know what role will be played by the many local COVID-19 action groups who’ve demonstrated right from the very beginning with very impressive infrastructures that they can respond rapidly; but it’s not clear to me at all from this report what their role would be?”.

Dr Robin responded: “The local response groups sitting under the district hubs are of course vital to this process, because with Test and Trace and any localised outbreaks, more people may be required to self-isolate at very short notice which is where local knowledge plays such an important role.

“People might find out very suddenly that they must stay at home for fourteen days and some will be okay with this and rapidly organise medical care through various organisations.

“However, for those more vulnerable in the community, support and arrangements at a local level will be massively important to them ensuring that they get their food brought in, their medicines collected, their pets walked etc., so we feel there is a very real role for the local COVID-19 groups and we have included them within the plan ”.

The members unanimously voted to approve the Local Outbreak Control Plan, with Dr Robin and her team acknowledging the input and questions received from the Board.

The draft version of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Local Outbreak Control Plan was put to central government for approval on  June 30.

Once approved, the final form will be made available to the public.

By Rob Alexander

Local Democracy Reporting Service