Meet the Mackem voices helping drive down Sunderland's Covid cases as they join in Test and Trace effort
A team of Wearsiders have helped track down hundreds of people at risk from coronavirus infection by using their local knowledge to back up the NHS’s efforts.
Sunderland City Council has formed its own taskforce, taking on the job of finding residents the NHS Test and Trace team were unable to speak to within the first 32 hours of a positive test by their contact.
Since its launch on January 7 and up to February 17, the tracers have reached 539 people, around 60% of all cases the national service had been unable to solve.
Their work will be integral to helping to stop the spread of the virus and key to allowing the easing of the third lockdown to go ahead.
Infection levels and ensuring they do not risk a surge in hospital admissions, putting unsustainable pressure on the NHS, is one of the four conditions of the road map unveiled by Prime Minister Boris Johnson this week.
The seven-day service brings together staff from the customer service network and redeployed workers from customer service roles in centres closed due to Covid restrictions, with some based at home others within its offices.
Their first task is to send the person a letter and a text, telling them to expect a call, before they are contacted by phone – if there is no response, a further letter is sent and then another, if they do not respond.
In addition to handling their case in the strictest confidence, the trained team ensures the person is OK, asks if they need help to self-isolate through shopping supplies, food parcels, essentials and medication and offers advice about the rules they need to stick to reduce the risk to others.
The letters sent out also detail how to make contact or ask for support so residents can take action themselves.
The council has said the local contact tracing approach is helping to reduce the spread of the virus across the city, offering a local voice and knowledge along with details of grants which can help.
They have also found people are more likely to respond to an organisation they know.
Phil Thompson, team leader, said: “So far the team have been very successful in being able to speak to a lot of the residents that the NHS had not managed to reach.
“We have spoken to a number of residents where their family member has either been in hospital or unfortunately passed away so it certainly hits home the importance of everyone isolating to ensure we stop the spread and residents of Sunderland stay as safe as possible.”
Beverley Fox is among the call handlers joining in the effort.
She said: “I have really enjoyed working on the test and trace and feel like I am doing my part to help.
"Everyone has been lovely and have thanked us for calling and for getting in touch they feel as if someone cares.”
Karen Britton, her colleague, added: “I have really enjoyed working on Test and Trace.
"I feel like I am doing my part to help everyone.
"Customers have thanked us for getting in touch at this difficult time.”
Graham Fawcett, another member of the team, said: “Supporting residents to respond to test and trace procedures will help stop the spread of the virus.”