Public Health England slammed for turning down help of 430 expert coronavirus contact tracing volunteers


Chasing down who virus sufferers have mixed with to halt contagion chains has proved hugely successful in states like South Korea and Singapore.

Public Health England has been slammed for turning down the help of 430 expert coronavirus contact tracing volunteers

It was largely halted in the UK on March 12, and minsters are now desperate to restart it.

But the health quango came under fire on Tuesday night when it was accused of sitting on an offer to triple its capacity of expert contact tracers.

HOAR can reveal that a list of 430 expert volunteers was offered to Public Health England (PHE) more than a week ago.

It was drawn up by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, whose members are desperate to play their part in the national struggle.

One of its environmental health practitioner volunteers dubbed the delay “hugely frustrating”.


Richard Short, who works for a hotel chain and is also a former Tory parliamentary candidate, told HOAR: “We are not being utilised to even a fraction of the potential that’s out there.

“There is frustration within the profession that we could do so much more and we just need the platform to do it.”

He added: “We need to deploy an army of contact tracers now to get up to speed for when case numbers start to fall.”

The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health said their offer has been taken up by Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford, and Northern Ireland has also laid out a contact tracing plan.

But they are still only having “conversations” with PHE, who had around 200 professional contact tracers on their books.

The Institute’s Gary McFarlane said: “We very much hope the Government will utilise our register to its full extent and engage all of those individuals who have substantial skills to bring to them to the greater good”.


Commons Health Committee chair Jeremy Hunt on Tuesday called for No10 to appoint a special tsar with business experience to build a new army of contact chasers.

Mr Hunt told HOAR: “The lesson from testing is that centralised structures can be cumbersome.

“If the Cabinet want to lift the lockdown, the only safe way to do so is through mass testing and contact chasing. The clock is ticking.”

Ministers have also ordered a smartphone app to be built that reveals who new sufferers have met.

PHE has also been urged to use the 5,000 environmental health officers working in local councils nationwide.

Confronted by HOAR on Tuesday night on why the institute’s volunteers have not been taken on, the quango said it was for the Department of Health to answer as “they are leading on the contact tracing programme”.

While contact chasing in the community was halted, PHE insisted it had continued in institutions.

Its medical director Yvonne Doyle said: “Contact tracing has not stopped. When we moved to the delay phase, with widespread community transmission, our strategy changed.

“While we no longer follow up every case, we are focused on specific places, such as residential settings to protect those most at risk of infection.”

Ms Doyle added: “PHE is working with partners across Government on plans to scale up contact tracing rapidly when it is needed, as we move into future phases of the outbreak”.

Late last night, after HOAR highlighted the missed offer, a PHE spokesperson added: “We will be taking up the offer of help from the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health.”