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PHA 'stood down' NI council staff ready to begin coronavirus contact tracing

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PHA call: Donal O’Cofaigh

PHA call: Donal O’Cofaigh

PHA call: Donal O’Cofaigh

The Public Health Agency "stood down" environmental health officers who were ready to begin contact tracing, it has emerged.

Fermanagh and Omagh District Council had agreed to a request from the PHA to provide staff.

While this was set up and a start date was in place, the initiative was "stood down" and there remains no indication of if or when it will be activated, or exactly why it was halted.

The information is contained in a report by the chief executive of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, Alison McCullagh, around the council's response to the Covid-19 emergency.

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It said an initial proposal was received from the PHA on April 20, on the potential to utilise environmental health officers, in contact tracing, on a full cost recovery basis.

Officers were mobilised and rostered to work from the week commencing April 27.

However, this never actually started and the officers were subsequently "stood down" by the PHA.

It remains unclear if or when they will ever be utilised.

The issue was revealed to members during a council meeting.

Ms McCullagh told members: "We received an initial proposal from the PHA regarding the potential of using our officers in contact tracing.

"We were ready to mobilise from April 27, but then on subsequent advice from PHA, these officers have been stood down.

"We are not sure when they will be utilised, but we understand that remains the intention."

Independent member Donal O'Cofaigh suggested contacting the PHA to establish why they initiated some form of contact tracing and then did not do it, particularly as this should be progressed in the district.

Ms McCullagh understood that, while it is to be formally confirmed, "the PHA are rolling this out. This issue is they are not using environmental health officers at the moment, and I think that is due to the wording of an existing Memorandum of Understanding.

"They don't think it's insurmountable. They think it will come but they can't use our staff until it actually happens. It is happening and I think it will be expanded upon."

The Public Health Agency was contacted for comment.

It released a statement on the general aims of contact tracing, but did not directly address why staff in Fermanagh had been stood down.

The PHA said: "The aim of contact tracing is to identify clusters of infection and prevent further spread of Covid-19.

"The contact tracing in the pilot programme will focus on priority groups within the population where clusters of infection may be presenting.

"This involves new ways of working, so there is a lot still that we need to learn about the process."

Belfast Telegraph


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