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West Berkshire local contact tracing for coronavirus off to 'encouraging start'

Council is contacting people to help fill gaps in NHS Test and Trace system

West Berkshire's local contact tracing for coronavirus is "off to an encouraging start".

Local contact tracing launched in the district on November 5. Council staff will contact people who have tested positive for Covid-19 but have not responded to the national Test and Trace service within 24 hours.

Speaking at a meeting last night Public Protection Partnership (PPP) manager Sean Murphy said that a Public Health England assessment had rated the council with "a high degree of confidence in its ability to deliver".

Thirty council officers have been trained and will be managed on a rota by the PPP, which also covers Bracknell and Wokingham, where local contact tracing has been in operation.

The system will operate seven days a week between 9am until 4.30/5pm, but Mr Murphy said it would depend on when the council received data from the national service as there had been glitches when the data had not been received until the afternoon.

The local system will work to plug gaps in the national level. The meeting heard that Test and Trace data up to November 9 showed that 82 per cent of confirmed cases in West Berkshire had been contacted by the national service.

The SAGE committee recommends 80 per cent of contacts of an index case would need to be contacted for the system to be effective.

The proportion of contacts followed up from people who tested positive was 71 per cent.

When asked why the national service was not picking up higher numbers Mr Murphy said: "There are some people who they were just not able to get hold of, they make three calls.

"I think people were maybe reluctant to answer at national level because the number wasn't recognised as something local. People have views on unknown numbers.

"I think it's also fair to say, just talking to officers, that there are people who perhaps don't want to be contacted and who particularly don't want to co-operate.

"I think they have come across that, not necessarily with the West Berkshire calls because we've only been doing it a few days, but we have had incidences where people do not want to share contact information with us. I think that is an issue.

"The vast majority of people are cooperative. If we can get hold of them, people are assisting with the tracing process and basically are happy that they've been contacted."

Details are downloaded from the national system and a call handler will advise on the importance of self-isolating and signpost to support. Information is then uploaded to the national system once contact has been made.

Mr Murphy said the schemes benefits included coming from a local number (01635 551111) as people were reluctant to answer calls from a national number.

Other benefits included being able to signpost people to local sources of support and the use of council information to source correct contact details.

Head of Public Health at West Berkshire Council Matt Pearce said another benefit of local tracing was that the national system might not have the right contact numbers, perhaps missing a digit or having the wrong address.

Mr Murphy said the team had learned a lot and that the system was "off to an encouraging start" but it was to early to assess the impact.

Mr Pearce said: "We know a lot of people don't self-isolate when they are asked to. Nationally it's nearly as high as four in five people who have been contacted but don't necessarily choose to self-isolate."

He said this could be for a number of reasons including childcare, worries about income or them not being at risk.

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