The local authorities that are working together have all featured on the national COVID watchlist in recent weeks. They are: Barnsley, Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees, Rotherham, Sheffield and Wakefield.
They have written to Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, and Dido Harding, Chair of the NHS Test and Trace Programme. The letter sets out the nature of the challenges that exist in their districts – and puts forward an action plan for how they can be overcome through tailored interventions.
The much-needed measures are based on their direct experiences in Yorkshire. However, the seven leaders believe that they are also relevant to the way other councils, both elsewhere in the region and nationally, can bear down on what is proving to be “a stubborn tail” of COVID-19 cases.
The Government announced on 10 August that NHS Test and Trace and PHE will extend their partnership with local authorities in order to reach more people testing positive and their contacts to stop the spread of Covid-19. The announcement was welcomed across the seven Yorkshire councils who have been asking for this to be set up at pace. They look forward to the speedy implementation of these new arrangements.
The councils have also asked the Government for two further important interventions. These are:
- Extra support for low-income households during local outbreaks to reduce the risk of low paid and zero-hours contract workers being reluctant to get a test for fear of having to stay at home for 14 days without pay if they test positive for the virus.
- Additional funding for care homes, many of which are under occupied due to COVID-19 and may not survive long enough to act as a safety net for the NHS in the event of a second spike or the onset of severe winter pressures.
The council leaders insist that while these measures come with a price tag, they offer a cost effective and “value for money” solution in managing outbreaks and reducing the chances of a resurgence of COVID-19 cases.
They stress that these asks for support are underpinned by a shared local and national determination to limit the spread of infection; help people to stay healthy; support a safe economic recovery by reducing the risk of local lockdowns; and protect the NHS both over the winter period and the long-term.
While the Government has allocated grants to local authorities as part of the national programme, the high COVID-19 rates that exist in many parts of Yorkshire mean that new targeted local measures are needed which exceed the national grant.
Councillor Tim Swift, Leader of Calderdale Council, said:
“Unfortunately we’re seeing a worrying increase in COVID-19 infection rates in Calderdale since national lockdown restrictions were eased. We know that local action is vital to control the virus, and that our communities are great at working together to protect each other – we did it before and kept our infection rates low throughout lockdown.
“So it’s essential that we step up our united local activity to keep people safe and avoid a full lockdown. But this time of serious risk and national intervention needs national support. The Government’s move towards more local testing and tracing is a welcome step, but we need extra funds to sustain this and other targeted action.”