Cheshire and Merseyside’s contact tracers, who work alongside the NHS Test and Trace service and are made up of both local teams and the subregion’s dedicated contact tracing Hub, have been praised for their “adaptability and resilience”, as well as the numerous benefits offered by local expertise and experience, in an independent evaluation from Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU).
The contact tracers work collaboratively as a responsive and dynamic ‘Hub’ for Cheshire and Merseyside and has been operating since July 2020, when it was rapidly established to focus on complex settings by the Champs Public Health Collaborative in partnership with Public Health England (PHE) and local councils.
Since then, the Collaborative, which is led by Cheshire and Merseyside’s Directors of Public Health and made up of partners across the health and care system, including PHE, Local Councils and the NHS, has led the Hub’s development from a small support team to a model example of an effective and integrated contact tracing team that can work across an entire subregion, with the local councils.
The evaluation was delivered by LJMU’s Public Health Institute and included telephone interviews with senior staff and the compilation of case studies. Findings from the evaluation’s report include many examples of how local expertise proved vital in running contact tracing and how the ability to build relationships and draw on local knowledge allowed the contact tracers to better support the cases and settings they were dealing with.
As well as this, the report highlights the diversity of the background and experience of the contact tracers, which enabled a more integrated and comprehensive approach, and that having a local team who had excellent knowledge of the provision of local support for self-isolation, that was specific to the needs of the individual, facilitated a better environment for compliance with self-isolation requirements.
Julie Webster, Director of Public Health for Wirral and lead Director for the contact tracing Hub, said:
“We are approaching the one-year milestone of when this work started, and it is incredibly encouraging to see how the Hub has developed over this time and that we have an independent evaluation telling us that this local integrated approach to contact tracing is making a difference. This study was carried out earlier in the year and the model is constantly evolving. We want to continue to improve our approach to work as ‘one team’ across Cheshire and Merseyside. Our training programme has been critical and further training is being planned.
“It is entirely possible that before the COVID-19 pandemic, many people will not have known about contact tracing or understood how vital it is for protecting their and their local communities health. We are now benefiting from a climate where this has changed and we are now also finding that even in a global pandemic, taking a local approach will ultimately provide a better service and better outcomes for local people, which gives us excellent learning as we take our next step and think about contact tracing for the ongoing management of COVID-19 and beyond.”
The evaluation report also provides an insight into the world of a contact tracer and how the local and integrated approach resulted in better outcomes in many cases. One example, in which an individual had disengaged completely with NHS Test and Trace due to illness caused by COVID-19 and financial worries, was offered personalised support from a contact tracer who took the time to listen to their situation and empathise with their circumstances. This ultimately resulted in the individual being more open to an ongoing conversation and crucially, engagement with contact tracing and self-isolation requirements.
Another example in the report demonstrates how the Hub deals with complex settings, like a large workplace. In this example, the workplace was high-risk, due to the environmental conditions and the inability for staff to always social distance, and the role of the Hub was to build relationships and regularly liaise with the workplace to ensure that individual cases were managed before it became an outbreak, and if an outbreak did happen, look at some of the contributing factors and offer advice on changes to procedures, like shift patterns.
Sam Ghebrehewet, Head of Health Protection for Public Health England North West, said:
“It is fantastic to read so many real-life examples of how Cheshire and Merseyside’s contact tracing Hub has not only worked incredibly well to contain outbreaks of COVID-19, but also support local people with advice, guidance and in some instances, time to listen and understand how the virus, and the impact of trying to contain it, can affect local peoples’ lives.
“This kind of intensive and time-consuming method of health protection can be complex, but incredibly effective. With this evaluation, we now know that having a local team in place, that can adapt and flex to the variety of challenges thrown at it on a daily basis, bolsters local resilience and ultimately, save lives.”
Please click here to download and read the evaluation report. To find out more about Cheshire and Merseyside’s contact tracing Hub for complex cases and settings, please visit: champspublichealth.com.