Bradford Council Leader Cllr Susan Hinchcliffe and her fellow leaders from 14 councils across Yorkshire have challenged the Government to commit to a firm timetable to increase Pillar 2 laboratory capacity for processing COVID-19 tests. They have also expressed concerns that, as we head towards winter, continuing problems with test appointments, and lack of clarity about whether people without symptoms should get themselves tested, are causing confusion and a lack of confidence in the national test and trace system.
The council leaders have written jointly to Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, setting out the nature of the issues and challenges that testing and contact tracing is presenting in their districts. They have also offered their support and some potential ways of easing the situation.
The letter calls on the Secretary of State to “lead a conversation with the public on how these issues will be managed”. It also asks for “urgent clarification from the Department of Health and Social Care on how long these capacity issues will be with us and what contingencies are in place should this issue not be fully resolved by 23 September 2020”.
It is now more than a month since the Government announced on 10 August that NHS Test and Trace and Public Health England were to extend their partnership with local authorities in order to reach more people testing positive and their contacts to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Implementation of these arrangements has been slow and is taking place against a backdrop of rising infection rates in the Yorkshire & Humber region and nationally.
Councillor Susan Hinchcliffe, Leader of Bradford Council, said:
“The well-documented problems people have in accessing COVID-19 tests through the national system and the capacity issues in processing tests in laboratories is causing a significant knock-on for local authorities.
“We are best placed to understand and work with the needs of our communities on local testing and contact tracing.
“The only way we’re going to beat this virus is by further strengthening our local activity but it is no good if the national test and trace system is letting the side down.
“We are at a critical time. As we head towards winter, and with infection rates rising across the country, it has never been clearer that we all need to work together – Government, councils and local partners, and the public.
“We must not become complacent or think that the situation is returning to normal. We must make sure our systems and behaviours are as effective as possible in limiting the spread of infection; helping people to stay healthy; and supporting a safe economic recovery by reducing the risk of a return to full lockdown.
“I urge everyone – regardless of where you are in the district – to do the right thing, continue to follow the Government’s guidelines so that we can contain the virus, save lives and prevent further restrictions on our district. Those people who were shielding earlier in the year should still be very cautious.
“Regular hand-washing, wearing a face covering indoors and keeping two metres apart from each other are all fundamental to combating this virus and protecting our loved ones.”