Government accused of ignoring lessons from Sheffield contact tracers

The Government has been accused of ignoring lessons from the UK’s first contact tracing group based in Sheffield.
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The Sheffield Community Contact Tracers, which outside of the Government’s scheme has been the only group contact tracing in the UK, tracked 58 people who had been in contact with 10 coronavirus patients using volunteers before the Government’s test and trace scheme got off the ground.

They found that although using volunteers was a good method, two thirds of those tracked did not fully cooperate and the majority of them worked in the NHS or social care.

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And now voluntary groups in the city have written to Health Secretary Matt Hancock as they say they are “deeply concerned that the project’s findings are not being accounted for”.

Stock photo of Sheffield. Photo: JPI MediaStock photo of Sheffield. Photo: JPI Media
Stock photo of Sheffield. Photo: JPI Media

The letter to Mr Hancock said: “We have yet to see an approach from the Government about how contacts will be compelled to self-isolate and there is currently no publicly-available plan around providing the practical and emotional support those people will need to do so.”

It added: “Critically, those who do need to self-isolate for 14 days - which is a big ‘ask’ of anyone - are not being given the adequate financial support to ensure they can meet their basic costs of living.”

The letter, signed by 26 representatives of voluntary and community sector organisations, said they were essential to the effort, and added: “It’s our belief that ‘shoe leather’, boots-on-the-ground community work will be far more effective at tracing and containing this virus than any national scheme could be, because the fine detail is absolutely critical. The voluntary sector has the trusted relationships and local understanding to lead on this work - but it needs support.”

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Maddy Desforges, Chief Executive of Voluntary Action Sheffield, added: "Running a Test and Trace programme at a national scale is complicated but it's also critical if we want to continue easing lockdown. Public messaging around coronavirus is changing, and people need to understand the detail so they can understand the risks and take appropriate action for them and their family.

"Communities need practical and emotional support to help keep themselves and their neighbours safe, particularly if they are in the vulnerable or shielding groups or if they need to isolate because they have Covid symptoms. This grassroots work must not be overlooked and it needs a considerable investment of time and money. It won't just happen."

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “NHS Test and Trace is here to support the re-opening of society – it is undoubtedly already curbing the spread of Covid-19 and helping to save lives.

“In the first fortnight, tens of thousands of people engaged with the Test and Trace service, by taking a test if they have symptoms, sharing their contacts and following the advice to self-isolate.

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“We are confident the public will continue to play their part in reducing the spread of the virus, but if we find that people are not complying with isolation instructions, we will not hesitate to introduce tougher measures.”