Heed us on contact tracing, urges public health chief

By Ann McGauran | 01 May 2020

Councils’ public health teams and their leaders need to be at the heart of discussions about any new COVID-19 contact tracing system, says the president of the Association of Directors of Public Health.  

Dr Jeanelle De Gruchy said there is an opportunity to ‘reset’ the relationship between local and regional government and the centre as the Government ‘charts a way forward’ beyond the first phase of COVID-19,

Writing for The MJ, she said the ‘litmus test’ of this will be the ‘crucial issue of contact tracing, which will be an essential component of containing the spread of COVID-19 for the foreseeable future’.

DsPH and their teams have extensive experience of leading and undertaking contact tracing work, said Dr De Gruchy.

She added: ‘This voice must be at the heart of discussions about the design and implementation of any new system so that it functions effectively and is joined up to other programmes, such as testing and supporting vulnerable people.’

DsPH have had to support colleagues in ‘making sense of the “Made in Westminster” policies, programmes and guidance on testing, personal protective equipment (PPE), supporting the care sector, and shielding the vulnerable’, she said.

This had ‘absorbed huge time, energy and resources for public health teams and other colleagues in local government, much of it really unnecessarily’.

‘We could have, needed to have, done this so much more efficiently’, she added. ‘The question it poses is: why not involve DsPH from day one?

DsPH are the experts on the management of infectious disease outbreaks, said Dr De Gruchy – and she criticised what she said was the Government’s controlling approach and failure to use the ‘correct’ structures and routes.

‘We know epidemiology and are experienced in outbreak management; we know data, intelligence and modelling; we understand our communities; we know our local systems and we know what works on the ground for the people we serve.’

She added: ‘Yet the instinct of Westminster during this pandemic has too often been command and control – but not in a good way. The correct emergency command and control structures and routes were not used.’

The view from the ground on contact tracing

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