Private companies running test and trace services were slammed by councillors calling for a locally based focus.
Brighton and Hove City Council leader Phélim Mac Cafferty lashed out at the government’s decision to use private companies instead of experienced health professionals on the covid-19 track and trace system.
The Green leader said that the government’s decision to hand over test and tracing to businesses was “disastrous” at a meeting of the full council last night (Thursday 22 October).
He said that Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock should provide funding and resources for public health teams to deliver tracing at a local level.
Councillor Mac Cafferty said that public health teams across the country had received just £300 million between them while companies such as Serco, Sitel and Deloitte “reaped” more than £500 million “with little to show for it”.
He said: “We cannot afford the continuation of these catastrophic national blunders. Not one penny more should be given to the failing contracts in the private sector.
“This scandalously wasted resource must be handed over to public health teams, like the one here in our city, which is helping effectively manage the pandemic despite a decade of savage government cuts.”
Fellow Green councillor Clare Rainey seconded his motion calling for a report about the effects of lockdown on quality of life and mental health.
She said that up to 10 million people would need some form of mental health support as a direct consequence of lockdown, up to 1.5 million of them children and young people.
Councillor Rainey said: “The long-term uncertainty, fear, isolation and loneliness as a result of lockdown, as well as elevated stress around redundancy, finances, the changing job market and social restrictions, are taking their toll.
“The charity Samaritans has fielded a quarter of a million calls directly related to covid during the pandemic – and calls to domestic violence helplines have increased by nearly 50 per cent.
“To make matters worse services are not offering face-to-face appointments, and GPs are often not seeing patients, making it harder to refer them. For example, referrals to CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Servicecs) have gone down by 47 per cent during lockdown.”
Labour councillor Clare Moonan, who chaired the council’s Health and Wellbeing Board at the start of the outbreak, said that in the early days of the pandemic a certain level of panic could be forgiven.
She praised council staff, the NHS and voluntary sectors for coming together and taking control of an “unprecedented” situation.
Councillor Moonan said that Labour backed the Greens in calling for a properly resourced local strategy.
She said: “As a public health professional for 15 years, I know that infectious diseases are controlled by effective and evidence-based contact tracing methodologies.
“Whether it be ebola, TB, STIs or measles, you test the suspected case, treat and isolate them, contact all the people with might have passed the infection on to, test and repeat … until everyone is found and treated. It works and is nothing new.
“If there were excuses in March and April as the pandemic was ‘unprecedented’, there certainly isn’t now.”
Labour councillor Amanda Evans, who chairs the council’s Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee, criticised the Prime Minister for failing to heed early warnings about the pandemic.
As a result, she said, the country ranked among the worst for deaths per million.
She echoed Councillor Moonan, saying: “If there was some small excuse in March, there certainly isn’t now.
“Not that the government seems to be making excuses in any case. They seem quite happy to continue fronting it out, spending literally billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on companies with no track records in test and trace or PPE (personal protective equipment) but all seemingly – surprise – connected to the government.
“They blame the public for not correctly following guidelines that seem designed to confuse and apparently have no problem throwing good money after bad with Serco and a raft of other failing suppliers.”
Independent councillor Tony Janio opposed the motion and tighter controls in Brighton and Hove.
He said: “There’s not a lot of covid left now it’s gone through the students. This is just about controlling people’s lives.”
Conservative councillor Alistair McNair said that he felt sorry for the council’s chief executive Geoff Raw, who was often asked by councillors to write letters to assorted secretaries of state.
He recited his own mock letter to the Health Secretary, citing Brighton and Hove’s low rate of cases at 83.2 per 100,000 as well as extra funding.
Councillor McNair said: “Given our inability to roll out cycle lanes in a democratic and financially astute manner, we would humbly request that this council not be allowed to keep increasing its debt burden and that any further money be paid directly to residents.
“We now recognise that our Green New Deal, far from being green, new or a deal, would be centrist, socialist and extremely expensive.
“We now recognise people voted for Brexit, for ‘first past the post’, that more trees are being planted than ever, that the UK is a leader in wind power, that the latest government ‘vanity’ project is a train and people should have the freedom to drive and fly without paying more.”
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