East Sussex health boss criticises NHS Test and Trace’s performance

NHS Test and Trace has come in for criticism from a senior East Sussex health official. 

Tuesday, 27th October 2020, 10:42 am
Darrell Gale, director of Public Health for East Sussex

Speaking this week, East Sussex director of Public Health Darrell Gale criticised the effectiveness of the NHS Test and Trace service, saying it had overseen a “disaster” in testing capacity.

Mr Gale was speaking during a Q&A with Lewes District Council leader James MacCleary, which was streamed live on Facebook on Wednesday (October 21). 

Mr Gale said: “Throughout the last part of August and all through September we had a disaster in the testing laboratory capacity, which meant that many of you trying to get tests could not get tests.

“Many of you trying to get tests locally were being sent to Inverness. When this was announced I sat here in Lewes putting in County Hall’s postcode and offered a test in Inverness. 

“I just thought this can’t be real. Two weeks later that was still happening. I was testing it everyday.”

Mr Gale said tests had also gone missing, saying his own partner’s test results had never returned despite being sent in mid-August. 

He also implied “nationally imposed rationing” of testing had gone on during this period. 

He said: “I am deeply sceptical about some of the things that have happened, but there has been some good news in that some of that testing capacity has improved. 

“For the last two weeks we have not had any nationally imposed rationing of the tests slots so all those testing locations should be filled now. No one is turning on and off the tap nationally based just on an algorithm now.”

Mr Gale said some of the contract tracing was now being done locally as well, saying he believed local health teams were more effective and would engender more trust from Sussex residents.

He also described the Test and Trace system as not being “at all” integrated with local authority and NHS systems.

He did however offer some praise for elements of the service.

“There are a lot of good people working in that service though”, Mr Gale said.

“Some of the individual call handlers obviously and some of the regional staff, who when problems have arisen – and they have, multiple problems have arisen – been really quick to work with us directors of Public Health, to try and get honest communications out.

“It is a difficult one for government, isn’t it. They’ve gone out to the private sector and said ‘there you go have all this money and do all this’. 

“If they had come direct to local government they would have come to 151 directors of Public Health, which on paper you might think is just as equally as complex and could easily lead to a kind of postcode lottery, where someone in one county does it very differently to someone in a London borough.

“That might be appropriate though, because they are different populations and different teams with different amounts of resources.”