Academics and clinicians from the University of Leicester have criticised the level of data made available to local authorities regarding Covid-19 infections.
An “inadequacy of information sharing” meant action could not be taken at a local level earlier in Leicester, while reimposing lockdown represents a “failure of timely intervention”, according to the group.
Leicester was forced back into tighter measures after a flare-up of cases in the city, which now has the highest coronavirus rates in England.
In a letter to The Lancet journal, the group of academics and clinicians wrote that the spike of regional infections had exposed “key problems” that need to be “urgently addressed”.
“In particular, the opportunity to escalate interventions locally has been stymied by the inadequacy of information sharing,” the letter says.
Leicester is currently the worst affected region in England, with at least 45 cases per 100,000 people in the week to June 21.
But the letter’s signatories report that news of the city’s outbreak came as a surprise to local health organisations, who were only able to access “pillar 1” data at that time.
Pillar 1 data – tests carried out in NHS and Public Health England (PHE) laboratories – found that the number of new cases per day was low throughout the first half of June, according to the authors.
The academics and clinicians wrote that information through pillar 2, testing of the wider community, indicated an ongoing spike but was “not communicated in a timely manner” to local authority and health organisations.
“We know that healthcare needs can vary widely between regions, influenced by demography, deprivation, and other socioeconomic parameters,” the letter continues.
“A one size-fits-all approach is myopic — local authorities, public health teams, and clinicians are best placed to understand the needs of their communities and should be empowered to implement context-specific and area-specific interventions developed within existing programmes.”
The correspondence raises concerns that an area-specific lockdown will “target and disproportionately affect ethnic minority communities”, adding that adherence to any proposed measures requires effective community engagement.
“We should remain mindful that lockdown is a blunt and damaging tool of last resort that represents a failure of timely intervention,” the letter states.
“Our experience brings into sharp focus the shortfalls in the current identification and management of local Covid-19 outbreaks.”
The letter to The Lancet, signed by seven academics and clinicians from the university, calls for a coordinated public health response that is “locally led, agile, and responsive to prevent unnecessary morbidity and mortality”.