Britain’s public health sector has told the Government that the emergency £3.2 billion support package for local authorities may not be enough to avoid an “uncontrollable” second wave of coronavirus.
By Tom Morgan 25 April 2020 www.telegraph.co.uk
A letter sent to Professor Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, and Professor John Newton, the official in charge of testing, also suggests a national “one-size-fits-all” strategy cannot beat lockdown.
Maggie Rae, the president of the Faculty of Public Health, and David McCoy, professor of Global Public Health at Queen Mary University, are among 20 experts calling for more powers regionally to put local teams “at the heart” of the response.
“The last decade has seen the capacity of local public health teams eroded by a combination of budget cuts and disorganisation to the health and social care systems,” says the letter, seen by The Telegraph.
“And while the injection of £3.2 billion of new cash to support local governments through this current crisis was welcome, further efforts are needed to give local structures the resources and mandate to enable the country to release the current lockdown measures and restore the economy without risking an uncontrolled second wave epidemic.”
The epidemic and the effects of lockdown “cannot be effectively mitigated through a centralised and one-size-fits-all approach”, the letter says.
More detailed local plans would enable authorities to tailor to “the specific local and contextual factors of different parts of the UK”. Contact tracing would also be achieved easier, and co-operation would be improved between public health, social care, primary care and hospital services.
In a separate interview, Ms Rae told The Telegraph that the UK will eventually need an “awful lot more” testing than the current 100,000 a day target by the end of the month. The Government accepts that it may eventually need capacity for 250,000 a day when lockdown measures are reduced.
“As we’ve seen from other countries and the successes they’ve had, we will probably need an awful lot more especially if we want to get to a plan where we can lift lockdown…as the testing capability and capacity grows, we need to stand for testing, tracing and isolating.”
Amid attempts to assess the possibility of relaxing lockdown in areas less affected by the virus, Public Health England set up a team at Porton Down in February to establish a “national surveillance programme”.
The team of scientists are currently analysing 5,000 samples from potential sufferers and Rae says establishing a clearer idea of how it is spreading across the country will be a huge help.
“My understanding is that we’ll be able to see the hotspots,” she added. “You do have people in the highlands of Scotland asking, ‘Why are we on lockdown when we could probably move about without putting anyone at risk?’, as long as they stay on the island. That’s a logical way the public will behave. At the moment we need everyone to follow the guidance.”
A spokeswoman for Public Health England pointed out that a letter had been sent out to local authorities and regional public health officials on Friday. There were also meetings held in the past week in which the Government pledged to involve local agencies, the spokeswoman added.
Regional directors of public health “are absolutely critical to the response”, the PHE spokeswoman said, adding that the “public health community will be at the heart” this going forward.