Directors of Public Health express concern over lack of COVID-19 testing capacity and contact tracing resources

Liverpool’s Director of Public Health has joined colleagues across Merseyside and Cheshire in expressing alarm that access to COVID-19 testing is limited.

There have been widespread reports of people being asked to travel to as far away as Yorkshire and Derbyshire to get a COVID-19 test, and not all symptomatic residents are able to access a test.

Matt Ashton said the haphazard system it now “poses a significant threat to the health”.

There has been a dramatic increase in the number of COVID-19 cases across Liverpool with cases increasing at such a rapid pace that the city and Merseyside region has now been identified as an area of concern on the national government watchlist.

Local authority teams and partners are working hard to implement effective plans, but Directors of Public Health are deeply concerned they do not have the essential tools to tackle an escalating pandemic.

Chair of the Cheshire & Merseyside Directors of Public Health Board and Director of Public Health for Cheshire West and Chester, Ian Ashworth, said: “Directors of Public Health understand that there is a national issue with laboratory capacity and efforts are being made to rectify this situation but we would ask that immediate action is taken. We will work closely with the Cheshire and Merseyside Testing group to make the most of the testing capacity available to our residents. Additional testing capacity is essential to help prevent further spread of the virus in Cheshire and Merseyside but also the North West. Currently the North West region has 25% of the COVID-19 national cases and yet has access to only 15% of the national testing capacity.”

Directors of Public Health are also concerned about resources to effectively lead locally supported contact tracing. Local areas are being asked to consider taking on the follow-up of cases that the national test and trace system cannot reach.

Matt Ashton added: “Without any further resources, we will find it incredibly difficult to deal with the additional cases, let alone pursue the close contacts of those cases. Directors of Public Health and teams are already at full capacity. We would like to request that the appropriate resources are given to local authorities to ensure we have the capacity to deal with the cases that the national system cannot reach and close contacts.”

Public health teams and partners have been working incredibly hard to keep residents safe and now require the testing capacity and funding for locally supported contact tracing to be available so they can continue to protect communities. Whilst hospital admissions are currently low, evidence from other countries like France and Spain shows that as cases rise so do hospital admissions and deaths. It is important to protect the most vulnerable and the economy, avoiding nationally imposed restrictions.

The Directors of Public Health are also encouraging all residents to play their part and unite together against COVID-19. This is a critical moment in the fight to halt the spread of the virus in Cheshire and Merseyside.

It only takes a few simple steps: wash your hands, avoid crowds, keep your distance, use face coverings, stay at home if you have symptoms and get tested. Call 111 if your condition deteriorates.