Government backs councils taking control of test and trace - Robert Jenrick

11 October 2020, 10:35 | Updated: 11 October 2020, 14:25

By Joe Cook

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said the government will “fully embrace” local led test and trace systems, following extensive criticism of the national system led by Baroness Dido Harding.

Speaking to Tom Swarbrick on Sunday on LBC, the Secretary of State also added his support to calls for the military to be used to plug holes where needed in contact tracing.

Latest figures saw a decline in the number of people reached by contact tracers, with 68.6 percent of those testing positive or in close contact with positive cases reached. This is well below the 80 percent target.

Robert Jenrick alongside LBC's Tom Swarbrick
Robert Jenrick put his support behind using the military for contact tracing. Picture: PA and LBC

For cases handled by local health protection teams, 97.1 percent of contacts were reached and asked to self-isolate in the week to September 30. This compares to 62.4 percent for cases handled either online or by call centres.

Mr Jenrick told LBC: "The Department for Health is recruiting more people to work in the program, they are bringing forward more labs.

“But we are also going to be working with local communities and we think that councils have a very important role to play here, because there is evidence that their contact tracing operations can be very successful.”

He added: “We are going to fully embrace that and give greater flexibility to local councils to do that, also to determine where testing sites and infrastructure might need to be placed in their communities.

“Places where this has worked well have seen all the resources of the local community out on the doors, boots on the ground, really trying to engage with the community.

“If the military can play a role in that then absolutely and we have offered that support to the cities and regions that have seen the highest level of cases."

Earlier on Sunday, the chief executive of NHS Providers, Chris Hopson, said it was "worrying that NHS Test and Trace performance in key areas such as the proportion of positive cases transferred into the Test and Trace system, of close contacts reached, and of tests turned round within 24 hours, are all getting worse when we need them to get better, quickly."

Mr Jenrick also conceded that local lockdown measures in the north of England “so far haven't yet had as much of an impact as we would have wished.”

But he argued “the medical advice” suggests “we do need to take further action in those places”, despite calls from local leaders to hold off on introducing further measures.