HACKNEY Labour has won their campaign for a local approach to testing and tracing the coronavirus (COVID-19), after warning the Government to avoid the current ‘shambolic, partially outsourced and centrally-run testing regime’, as Hackney’s Mayor Philip Glanville described it.

Hackney will be among four London boroughs – with Camden, Barnet and Newham Councils – who will share best practice in a localised track and trace system to combat the coronavirus outbreak.

The aim of their work is to help identify future coronavirus outbreaks and take action to stop the disease spreading in order to get the infection under control and save lives.

Mayor Glanville said: “I’m glad that our call, alongside our MPs, for local authorities to be more involved in the planning and response to the pandemic has now been heard.

“Through localised test and trace across these London boroughs, we will be able to offer our local knowledge and expertise to support the Government’s efforts to reduce the spread of the virus. Especially to help those who are most marginalised and vulnerable.

“Hackney is ready to hit the ground running, as we have shown in the face of previous public health issues such as measles outbreaks, and what we have done in terms of the humanitarian response to coronavirus. We can mobilise our partners and communities quickly, working together in order to combat disease.”

On 15 May, he stated: “Labour has to be clear that the government’s coronavirus testing programme has been nothing short of a disaster. As a leader in local government, I have witnessed the brunt-end of the shambolic, partially outsourced and centrally-run testing regime.”

He went on: “As local authorities, we are best placed to work in co-operation with our communities to roll-out a ‘Hackney Testing Service’ — or equivalents in each area. We can also fold in local advice, help and support ─ referring people on to humanitarian support when needed.

“This not only will help contain the virus, improving our understanding of the crucial ‘R’ number locally, but also rebuild and retain trust with the communities hardest hit by the crisis so far.” See –

He asked – How are our digitally excluded and potentially more at-risk communities, as well as Hackney’s Charedi Hasidic Jewish community ─ the largest in Europe ─ which often for religious reasons reject smartphones, included in this strategy? How are they meant to book online-only tests, be contacted with reports of local outbreaks, or report symptoms?

He added: “Councils run successful sexual health testing and tracing programmes, with experienced teams overseen by local public health directors that integrate with our local primary care services – as we did successfully in Hackney with measles two years ago.

“Town Halls, and not Whitehall, should take control of the next phase of coronavirus testing. But the Tories infantilising of local government, decade-long austerity agenda and disdain for ‘big-state’ politics is blocking the eventual defeat of the coronavirus.”

“As councils we have the public health capability and expertise, as well as credibility with our local communities to work with and support the needs of our diverse boroughs in the face of this pandemic.”

Cllr Chris Kennedy, Cabinet Member for Health, Adult Social Care and Leisure, added: “Hackney already has connections in place to work with our local voluntary and community sector, alongside regional and national government, to tackle this pandemic together. We look forward to doing our part to make sure residents are safe from coronavirus.”

Leaders of the other three councils all confirmed that it was the right move to involve local authorities who were more than well-equipped to deal with the situation.

Local government is uniquely positioned to help lend five key skills:

• Expertise – Environmental Heath and Public Health teams have training and experience in dealing with outbreaks of infectious diseases including salmonella and E.coli and know how to put safety measures in place to control localised outbreaks, while councils deliver key services day in day out to care for vulnerable people.

• Capacity – while a response to disease outbreaks is generally lead by Public Health England, Public Health teams work closely with their national partners and can provide vital capacity in terms of professional expertise in cases of a widespread outbreak such as coronavirus

• Community – Councils are best placed to understand their communities and have a whole network of relationships spanning businesses, community and voluntary sector organisations and public partners to make a localised approach work.

• Communications – These networks and partnerships, an active local press and a strong participation culture in London, are a real asset to the councils’ communications strategies, which include micro-targeting of public health messages to reach specific demographics of its population.

• Data – Councils hold a large amount of data about demographic make-up and data obtained through its support for residents. Stringently following data protection and privacy laws, this data could help give real insights into trends or disproportionate effects of any outbreak.

The national coronavirus test and tracing service is intended to be delivered through a three tier model.

It will combine digital and phone-based contact tracing to identify cases and their close contacts so they can rapidly self-isolate (More complex outbreaks and situations will be handled in London by the London Coronavirus Response Cell, which will co-ordinate complex outbreak and contact tracing with regional Health Protection Teams, Local Authority Directors of Public Health, and Environmental Health services).

Key immediate areas for the London boroughs to focus on will include arrangements and operating protocols for:

• responding to and managing outbreaks in care homes, schools and other residential and communal settings, working very closely with our colleagues in Public Health England;

• ensuring there is an ongoing offer of support to those residents who will need to isolate if they are a case or a contact of a case, if they need practical help with things like food, and medicines;

• access to the necessary data in a timely way to understand the distribution of coronavirus in our borough, so we can respond quickly and appropriately;

• strong focus on engaging and communicating with our communities, businesses and organisations across the borough so they know how to access testing, contact tracing and follow public health advice during this next pandemic phase – being very mindful of our diverse communities and disproportionate impacts.

24 May 2020

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