Whitehall not sharing Covid-19 knowledge on native outbreaks, say councils | Politics

Native outbreaks of Covid-19 may develop undetected as a result of the federal government is failing to share essential testing knowledge, council leaders and scientists have warned.

Greater than a month after being promised full particulars of who has caught the illness of their areas, native well being chiefs are nonetheless desperately lobbying the federal government’s testing chief, Woman Harding, to interrupt the impasse and share the information.

The scenario was described by one director of public well being as a “shambles”, whereas a scientist on the federal government’s personal advisory committee mentioned it was “astonishing” that public well being groups are unable to entry the data.

The prime minister mentioned on Friday the nation was transferring from “a huge one-size-fits-all national lockdown programme to one in which we’re able to do more localised responses”, and ministers have instructed councils and their public well being administrators to take the lead.

They are going to be answerable for monitoring the unfold of Covid-19 in native areas and deciding when to shut colleges, places of work, care houses and if crucial impose lockdowns on entire cities. As they race to provide outbreak administration plans by the top of June, public well being administrators warn they lack essential knowledge flowing from Whitehall.

“It can’t be stressed enough how important this data is to us,” mentioned Ian Hudspeth, the Conservative chief of Oxfordshire county council, who speaks on well being issues for the Native Authorities Affiliation. “We’ve been pressing for this since the test-and-trace system was announced.”

Councils are asking for real-time details about who has examined constructive, right down to the names and speak to particulars of people, and failing that by road, postcode, or catchment space of 1,500 individuals. Nonetheless, most are solely receiving a every day feed of combination group check outcomes for the whole higher tier native authority.

This might hinder the flexibility to identify outbreaks on the earliest alternative, in response to Chris Jewell, an epidemiologist at Lancaster College and a member of the federal government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) subgroup on modelling.

“We have to wait for [outbreaks] to emerge through the noise at a much larger spatial scale,” he mentioned. In sensible phrases, which means ready for extra individuals to turn into contaminated and, he mentioned, “delays are everything in dealing with outbreaks”.

Hudspeth mentioned he had been “lobbying hard” for the data because the starting of April when the well being secretary, Matt Hancock, launched the nationwide coronavirus testing programme.

“If someone has gone into a care home we need to contact them as soon as possible before they go into other areas and spread the virus,” he mentioned. “We need to know on the day so that we can clamp down and prevent the spread.”

Jewell mentioned he discovered it “astonishing” that native public well being officers are unable to get the postcodes of people that have been contaminated. “I don’t quite understand what the problem is,” he mentioned.

The variety of new circumstances within the UK is falling, however stays slightly below the 1,000-a-day mark – and well being administrators are on the alert for native outbreaks of the sort seen in Beijing and in Germany. Final week, three meat-processing vegetation had been shut down in England and Wales after extra 100 individuals examined constructive.

“We really do need the data shared,” mentioned Sakthi Karunanithi at Lancashire county council. “Without it we don’t know whether we have localised outbreaks, for example in a single care home, or generalised transmission in the community. This will help us intervene early before the virus spreads wider.”

Greg Fell, who heads public well being in Sheffield, instructed a parliamentary committee final week: “This is not nice-to-know data, this is necessary for the public health response in an emergency.”

One other long-standing director of public well being, who requested to be nameless, mentioned the entire course of was a “complete shambles”.

The warning about knowledge comes after administrators mentioned additionally they remained unclear about whether or not native authorities could have the facility to instigate native lockdowns or whether or not these selections will likely be taken at a nationwide degree.

The lacking info is basically from assessments carried out within the nationwide community of drive-in centres coordinated by administration consultants on the accounting agency Deloitte, and from postal assessments managed by the Northern Eire laboratory Randox. The info is held by central authorities, however has not but flowed via to councils and GPs. Against this, GPs routinely get outcomes from assessments carried out in hospitals utilizing NHS labs.

It’s understood civil servants within the Division of Well being and Social Care (DHSC), the place the test-and-trace effort is being overseen by the Conservative peer Dido Harding, are involved that sharing particulars about people with councils could fall foul of information safety legal guidelines. “Public Health England have the data but they haven’t got the protocols in place to make sure there is that ability to share,” mentioned Hudspeth.

One other supply prompt that there had been points getting de-anonymised knowledge again out of a extremely safe IT system supposed to guard private info.

The image has been difficult by the creation of a brand new authorities company, the Joint Biosecurity Centre. Giving proof to MPs final week, its chief govt, Clare Gardiner, mentioned her group could be answerable for pushing knowledge out to councils. Nonetheless, she mentioned the company was not anticipated to be totally operational till the top of the summer time.

A DHSC spokesperson mentioned: “Local outbreaks will continue to be managed by a specialist team from the local authority or PHE, and we have provided £300m to local authorities to further develop local outbreak control plans.”

“Testing data is being made available through local dashboards and we will continue to expand this to provide more data for local areas. The new test-and-trace service has an important role in limiting the spread of the virus nationally, and already thousands of those who have tested positive have been contacted and their close contacts traced.”

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