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Cumbria Sexual Health Services (CSHS) in collaboration with Cumbria Public Health and local authorities have established a COVID-19 contact tracing pathway for Cumbria. The local system was live 10 days prior to the national system on 18 May 2020. It was designed to interface and dovetail with the government’s track and trace programme.
Our involvement in this initiative was due to a chance meeting between Professor Matt Phillips, Consultant in Sexual Health and HIV, and the Director of Public Health Cumbria, Colin Cox. Colin knew that Cumbria needed to act fast to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 and Matt knew that sexual health had the skills to help.
Despite over 90% of the staff from CSHS being redeployed in March 2020, CSHS maintained urgent sexual healthcare for the county and a phone line for advice and guidance. As staff began to return to the service in May 2020 we had capacity to spare seven staff members, whose hours were the equivalent of four full-time staff. We had one system administrator, three healthcare assistants, one nurse, Health Advisor Helen Musker and myself.
CSHS were paramount to the speed with which the local system began. Following approval from the Trust’s chief executive officer we had adapted our electronic patient records (EPR) system, developed a standard operating procedure and trained staff, using a stepwise competency model, within just 1 day.
In collaboration with the local laboratories we developed methods for the input of positive COVID-19 results into our EPR derivative. We ensured that labs would be able to cope with the increase in testing and that testing hubs had additional capacity. Testing sites and occupational health were asked to inform patients that if they tested positive they would be contacted by our teams.
This initiative involved a multiagency system including local public health (PH) teams, local authority, North Cumbria and Morecambe Bay CCGs, Public Health England (PHE) and the military. If CSHS recognise more than one positive result in the same area/organisation, they flag this with PH at the daily incident management meeting and environmental health officers (EHOs) provide advice and guidance for the organisation. We have had an active role in the contact tracing for clusters in local general practices, providing essential information to PH to enable them to initiate outbreak control and provide accurate advice to the practices. We are an integral part in recognising cases in large organisations and ensuring prompt action is taken to stem the spread of the disease. The team have provided out-of-hours work to ensure timely and efficient action is taken for all contacts.
The local contact tracing pilot has evolved and a database was established by local authorities. Our data fed directly into this from the end of May 2020. This enables the multiagency team to record data in one place, improving recognition of patterns of transmission.
Cumbria is covered by three National Health Service Trusts, which meant accessing data outside of our Trust was challenging and took more time to establish. There are two CCGs for Cumbria, which meant discussions regarding testing were needed with both North and South CCGs and variations in provision had to be accounted for. There are six boroughs in Cumbria with different teams of EHOs working in each. With so many people involved, not only is there need for large-scale frequent communication across a multisystem team, there is also inevitable duplication of work.
Lockdown is easing and sexual health clinics are increasing capacity in a new world of virtual appointments and reduced face-to-face consultations. Staff within the contact tracing team are now balancing their commitments across both teams to maintain their skills and keep abreast of the rapid developments within our service due to COVID-19. We are currently applying for funding from PH in order to second staff and backfill posts in sexual health.
CSHS have been able to lend our skills effectively to the local contact tracing efforts. We have expedited the contact tracing in Cumbria and provided crucial information to help contain outbreaks. It has had a positive effect on staff morale within the service and we have gained national recognition for our work. We have developed excellent relationships with our local PH team, PHE, Cumbria Council, EHOs and both CCGs.
Cumbria has the infrastructure to meet the demands of a second wave of COVID-19. The beauty of this model is that if we are faced with a second lockdown, sexual health staff will inevitably be available to help with the increased demand for contact tracing. Our ambition is that this model will be replicated nationally.
Handling editor Anna Maria Geretti
Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.
Competing interests None declared.
Patient consent for publication Not required.
Ethics approval Not required.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.