Government Must Give Local Leaders Vital Coronavirus Data To Help Target Outbreaks, Doctors Say

The warning from the BMA comes amid insight from scientists that there could be more local lockdowns in the UK.

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The government must give the UK’s local councils up-to-date information about spikes in coronavirus cases to help contain the spread of the virus and save lives, doctors have urged.

It comes after ministers faced criticism for the handling of the surge of cases in Leicester, the first city in the UK to be placed under a local lockdown.

Leicester mayor Sir Peter Soulsby said it was “all very well” telling local leaders figures across the city were high.

“What we need to know is what’s happening at neighbourhood level, at street level, because obviously we’re a very diverse city and a very big city,” he told the FT.

Now, the British Medical Association has said the government must share “timely, comprehensive and reliable” information to all those involved in the management of new cases at a local level.

It also called for clarity about how regional spikes will be managed in the future.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the BMA Council, said: “The prime minister has talked about a ‘whack a mole’ strategy to tackle local outbreaks, but this is no use if the people leading the response on the ground – be they public health teams or local leaders – are not given the most accurate up-to-date data possible.

“This is crucial to allow swift action and to protect lives and the health service, and something that is not happening right now.”

This is all the more important because the test and trace app promised by ministers is not yet in place, Nagpaul added.

Boris Johnson and the government have faced criticism over their handling of coronavirus data in Leicester
Boris Johnson and the government have faced criticism over their handling of coronavirus data in Leicester

Ahead of further lockdown restrictions being eased at the weekend – including pubs and restaurants opening – the BMA made a series of demands from the government.

These include the use of set “metric trigger points” at which action will be taken to reintroduce local and national restrictions, which would take into consideration the regional reproductive rate – known as the R rate – as well as the level of infections in communities.

It also stressed the importance of clear public health messaging that social distancing and infection control procedures should be adhered to.

Meanwhile, leading health academic Professor Sir Chris Ham has urged the government to give local leaders control over NHS Test and Trace.

In a piece published in the British Medical Journal, he wrote: “A crisis on the scale of the Covid-19 pandemic requires a national response. But in a country as large and diverse as the United Kingdom, where the impact of the virus varies between areas, a national response is insufficient.

Local leadership is “essential”, he continued. “A major weakness in the government’s handling of the crisis has been its failure to recognise and value local expertise.”

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Ham, former chief executive of the King’s Fund health think tank, concluded: “Local leaders, including devolved governments and elected mayors, are much better placed than the Westminster government to engage their communities in limiting and responding to future outbreaks.

“To do so effectively, these leaders must be given control of test and trace to rectify the flaws in the government’s ill judged design.”

According to data from Public Health England, there are 36 areas in England where coronavirus cases are on the rise, including Doncaster, the London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham and Medway in Kent.

On Wednesday, a scientist who advises the government on its Covid-19 response warned that more local lockdowns should be expected.

Professor Peter Horby, who chairs the new and emerging respiratory virus threats advisory group (Nervtag), was asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme if the public should brace for more local outbreaks.

“Unfortunately I think we should. We’ve seen the epidemic is focal, which is often the case, it’s not the same in all places,” he said.

“And we saw that London unfortunately led the way in the UK and now Leicester is unfortunately leading the way and we can expect more of that, so I think there will have to be local responses to local outbreaks.”


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