EHPs 'are being overlooked for contact tracing work'

Calls grow for the profession to be deployed in suppressing chain of transmission.
07 April 2020 , Katie Coyne

Calls to involve EHPs in contact tracing to help halt the spread of the COVID-19 virus are growing.

Dr Anthony Costello, professor of global health at UCL and former director of maternal and child health at the World Health Organization, told Channel 4 news last night (6 April) that a programme of contact tracing was needed to suppress the chain of transmission.

“We need to mobilise now that we've got this much bigger problem,” he said.

“We've got EH officers trained in contact tracing. We've got 75,0000 volunteers - many of them with clinical and nursing skills. So I think we can tap into that, even if we've been a bit late to the party, and then we can suppress it.”

Costello said that he had been advised by an expert in epidemic control that social distancing on its own, without other measures also being in place, will not secure an end to the pandemic.

He said: “This is guerrilla warfare. You’ve got a bundle of measures that you've got to do. You've got to get out into communities, talk to all who have got symptoms, reassure them, find their contacts, sort their problems out and monitor their symptoms and go back and do that repeatedly. And you've got to do it at speed.

“We've been a bit slower. That's why our death rates are much higher than the Asian states. But we've got a public health system to do that.

“In fact, it was the influenza surveillance people that picked up the first cases of a corona virus here.”

Costello has been calling for a community surveillance programme for some time and has argued that in practice the government had never moved away from the herd immunity approach.

The professor’s interview echoed views that EHPs could help in tracing the virus in a separate article in the Guardian, also yesterday (6 April), in which CIEH Northern Ireland director Gary McFarlane said that government health bodies are 'missing an opportunity' if they don't involve EHPs in contact tracing.

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