GM – tracing new steps

27 May 2020

Establishing effective contact tracing in Greater Manchester as part of a National Contact Tracing Service will be critical as we move into the next phase of our response to the pandemic, explains Professor Kate Ardern

T est, track and trace will be a vital component in stimulating longer term socio-economic recovery, loosening lockdown restrictions and ensuring not just Greater Manchester (GM) but the UK is a safe place to live, work, visit and do business.

Contact tracing is a tried and trusted approach that has been used for many years to prevent the spread of infection and to contain and stop outbreaks.

The three-part plan will shape how and when city regions and ultimately the UK leaves lockdown with three main aims central to it. These include testing people to uncover the virus, tracking where the virus is spreading and tracing people who may be infected – it is universally agreed that success relies on all three elements working in tune together.

As we move into the next phase of our response to the pandemic, establishing effective contact tracing in GM, as part of a National Contact Tracing Service (NCTS), will be critical in controlling the spread of the virus.

GM continues to be a vocal contributor to the iterative shaping of the national model and this will continue as the national model and leadership continue to evolve.

But there are many challenges and obstacles to overcome with the immediate steps being the ability to mobilise a whole system approach to contact tracing activity in GM as part of the NCTS.

These arrangements are part of the establishment of a national contact tracing approach which seeks to establish a regionalised network. Plans are in place for the regionalised GM network to have three primary functions which include supporting complex contact tracing in places such as homeless accommodation, police stations and social care settings; providing direct support to those identified through contact tracing for whom adherence to self-isolation measures may be challenging and consequence management as a result of managing an outbreak.

During the last few weeks, considerable progress has been made in shaping a Greater Manchester Contact Tracing Model.

This will be a whole system endeavour with leadership required from across health, local government, wider public service, Public Health England, the business community and the voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sectors.

Regional localities will play a key role in the effective national roll-out of contact tracing and will take on some core minimum requirements such as connecting to the GM contact tracing and testing architecture, supporting and protecting vulnerable individuals, household and groups, while also engaging with local communities.

Fortunately in GM, we are already on track in relation to many of these likely minimum requirements due to the early commencement of the GM contact tracing programme.

In the coming weeks within the immediate mobilisation phase of the GM contact tracing model, a number of developments are expected to take place.

A ‘shadow’ GM Contact Tracing Single Point of Contact (SPOC) is expected to be established to provide the single interface between the NCTS and Greater Manchester. This will be integrated with staff and resources from Public Health England North West.

Changes to infection rates and the emergence of geographical ‘hot-spots’ and ‘cold-spots’ will be identified via a GM Local Surveillance System that will build upon the existing COVID-19 analytics and intelligence.

Bolstering the short-term workforce required within a collaborative GM contact tracing approach will be a key challenge presented as preparations accelerate.

The aim is to draw upon resources by focusing on existing public service employees in the city-region who are shielded, furloughed or who could be redeployed; graduates (awaiting results) from environmental health, public health, nursing and allied health professional courses; or employees in organisations contracted by GMCA – again currently furloughed or shielded.

In the long-term, this GM-wide approach will be a fundamental part of the COVID-19 pandemic response and recovery for the next 18 to 24 months.

It could also provide an opportunity to establish a future-proofed blueprint for health protection and outbreak management for GM beyond COVID-19.

Professor Kate Ardern is director of public health at Wigan MBC and lead director of public health for the Greater Manchester Combined Authority for health protection and emergency planning and response

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