How Peterborough’s coronavirus track and trace team is helping to stop Covid-19 spread

Peterborough’s own coronavirus track and trace team is playing a crucial role in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

With the £12 billion national system coming under criticism, local areas have been more successful in getting hold of people who have tested positive for Covid-19 to make sure they are aware of the isolation requirements and to get hold of contact details for people they have been around.

In Peterborough, the success rate of the team in getting hold of residents who have tested positive has been mainly around the 80 to 90 per cent mark.

Among the team which began operating on August 12 is Jonathan Hodgson who combines being a tracer with his role as a housing enforcement officer.

Peterborough's track and trace team in action

At the start the team - which is made up of officers from services including food safety and licensing - had days when nobody came through on the list but that’s not the case now, with up to 14 people sometimes needing to be traced on a single day.

Jonathan explained: “We receive a list from the national service of people they’ve been unable to contact since their positive tests. Most of the time it’s people not answering their phones.

“We check people on the list against inpatients at the North West Anglia NHS Foundation Trust (to get their details) then set about attempting to contact them.

“We typically try a phone call and largely that works. Once we get hold of somebody we confirm their test, confirm they’re aware of the isolation requirements and offer support to people who are isolating.

“We then look to complete the information that the NHS requests on anyone they’ve come into contact with. There is a set list of questions surrounding employment, education, where they’re living and activities they may have undertaken where they’ve come into contact with people. 

“We ask for details on friends, families and businesses so we can report that back to the NHS. Those people will then receive a phone call, email or text.”

If this approach does not work on the first day then a more direct approach is taken.

Jonathan said: “Some information people have given the NHS can be incorrect. We will try three phone calls typically at different times and emails/texts explaining who we are and to get back in contact with us. 

“We give them a Peterborough number to call rather than the national number. People are wary of scams and nuisance calls. 

“If we don’t manage to contact them on the first day a couple of officers from the Prevention and Enforcement Service will go out and knock on doors. They will check the person is living there and give them a number to call.

“Ninety-nine per cent are happy to pass on any information.”

So far Jonathan has not experienced any problems from people he has contacted, with all happy to comply with the rules.

Asked why the local team was having more success than the national service, he replied: “I think there’s a mixture of local knowledge and a trusted contact number which I think really does help. 

“If you leave a voicemail saying ‘call back 01733’ there’s much more willingness than a number they’re not aware of. 

“But it’s also persistence and being able to door-knock where there’s an error in the system - such as a wrong digit in a phone number - or someone has not answered their phone.”

One example was a person who gave different numbers for both himself and his children, with the youngsters’ phones turned off after receiving their results.

They were all able to be contacted by the local team.

A typical day will begin from 10am when the list of names from the national service comes in.

Jonathan said: “The NHS service will have been trying for a couple of days after the test. Then time is ticking to get hold of contacts so they can be made aware.

“Where people might be struggling there is a hardship fund people can get access to. They’re explained that throughout the whole process. We also have a great support network - the Peterborough hub - which is supporting any people with difficulties.”

And even if all people on the list are reached first time, there is no resting up for the team.

“If we can get the information quite quickly then we can go back to doing our normal day jobs,” Jonathan added.

Dr Liz Robin, director of public health at Peterborough City Council, said:

“I’m very pleased with the way it’s gone. It’s demonstrated when you have local knowledge you can get in touch with people and have a proper conversation about the situation and contacts and any needs they have to self-isolate.

“Nationally they do good work with contacts, but having a local call gets a much better response rate.

“The team’s success is down to hard work, dedication and local knowledge.”