Following changes in national policy and the ending of the legal requirement to self-isolate, Cheshire and Merseyside’s COVID-19 Contact Tracing Hub for complex cases and settings is closing at the end of April.
The Hub was rapidly established in July 2020 as a strategic partnership between the Collaborative and Public Health England, now the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA). The operational management of the Hub was supported by the Champs Support Team and Wirral Council (the Support Team’s host organisation), with input from public health teams in local authorities.
During its operation, the Hub offered an integrated approach to COVID-19 contact tracing and outbreak support for a range of cases (eg. asylum seekers) and settings (eg. prisons). Staff within the Hub were also supported by a Learning Framework, that provided a range of learning from basic awareness of contact tracing to specific technical knowledge and skills for those in contact tracing roles. Partners in this Learning Framework included Health Education England, UKHSA and the University of Liverpool.
Since the Hub started, there has been nearly 18,000 COVID-19 enquiries recorded on HP Zone.
Julie Webster, Director of Public Health for Wirral and Lead Director for the Hub, said:
“I am extremely grateful to colleagues across Cheshire and Merseyside, who worked tirelessly to establish the Hub within an incredibly tight timeframe. This work has been vital, as it is internationally recognised that containing and managing a virus like COVID-19, especially within complex settings and with complex cases, is only achievable with robust local contact tracing. I am delighted to say that the Hub strengthened our local response to the global pandemic and the hard work is being built upon further within the Collaborative.”
The success of the Hub, which provided a more localised, bespoke approach to contact tracing and outbreak support, was a key indicator in the Collaborative’s successful submission to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) for £3.3 million to continue this work and run a pilot to create a more integrated, local-first approach to health protection.
An independent evaluation from Edge Hill University’s Unit for Evaluation & Policy Analysis, commissioned as part of the pilot into the functioning of the Hub, was overwhelmingly positive. Some highlights of what worked well in the Hub included…
Staff having the opportunity to undertake new and diverse learning which developed their skillset
Increasing confidence in public health knowledge
Team pride in having made a difference to the public
Working from home and paperless working has a positive impact on the wider environment
Well-developed relationships with Local Authorities (LAs) and other organisations
Wendi Shepherd, Interim Head of Health Protection (Cheshire & Merseyside) for UKHSA North West, said:
“The Hub has provided a truly innovative, system-wide, multi-agency approach to supporting our local health protection response to the pandemic and demonstrates the commitment and dedication of all health protection partners in Cheshire and Merseyside.
“On behalf of UKHSA, I would like to take this opportunity to thank our staff, local authorities, and the wider community for their tireless efforts to make the Hub the success that it has been. We look forward to building on this collaborative work to continue to address health protection issues in Cheshire and Merseyside.”
After the Hub closes from Saturday 30th April, the management of complex COVID-19 outbreaks will be the responsibility of Cheshire and Merseyside Health Protection Team. This is expected to include COVID-19 outbreaks in the following settings:
- SEN Schools
- Places of detention, prisons, secure units and approved premises
- Domiciliary care providers/Day centres for vulnerable populations
- Support in Port Health related outbreaks
- Support to Care Homes out of hours (when no Community Infection Control Team cover)
- Children’s Homes
- Underserved Groups
- Other settings by risk assessment
From the 30th April, the referral pathway to Cheshire and Merseyside Health Protection Team for complex outbreaks and queries will be as follows:
- By email to firstname.lastname@example.org in the same way as the current pathway. 9am – 5pm, 7 days a week.
- For urgent follow up in hours (9am – 5pm Monday to Friday) the telephone number to call is 0344 225 0562, option 1.
For urgent referrals out of hours, that cannot wait till the next day call UKHSA out of hours service. The number for the out of hours service is 0151 434 4819