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Cheshire and Merseyside Directors of Public Health express deep concern over lack of COVID-19 testing capacity

Cheshire and Merseyside Directors of Public Health are alarmed that access to testing in the area is limited and have issued a joint statement appealing for immediate action.

Some residents are being asked to travel to other parts of the country to get a COVID-19 test and not all symptomatic residents are able to access a test.

Directors of Public Health say that this poses a significant threat to the health and wellbeing of the residents of Cheshire and Merseyside.

A national decision at the weekend also meant that local testing sites, like one at Little Roodee car park, in Chester City Centre, has changed to appointment-only and will no longer offer tests without pre-booking.

There has been a dramatic increase in the number of COVID-19 cases across Cheshire and Merseyside. Cases are increasing at such a rapid pace that Merseyside has now been identified as an area of concern on the national government watchlist.

Local authority teams and partners are working hard to implement effective plans, but Directors of Public Health are deeply concerned they do not have the essential tools to tackle an escalating pandemic.

Ian Ashworth, Chair of the Cheshire and Merseyside Directors of Public Health Board and Director of Public Health for Cheshire West and Chester Council, said: “Directors of Public Health understand that there is a national issue with laboratory capacity and efforts are being made to rectify this situation but we would ask that immediate action is taken. 

“We will work closely with the Cheshire and Merseyside Testing group to make the most of the testing capacity available to our residents. Additional testing capacity is essential to help prevent further spread of the virus in Cheshire and Merseyside but also the north west. Currently the north west region has 25% of the COVID-19 national cases and yet has access to only 15% of the national testing capacity.”

Directors of Public Health are also concerned about resources to effectively lead locally supported contact tracing. Local areas are being asked to consider taking on the follow-up of cases that the national test and trace system cannot reach.

Mr Ashworth added: “Without any further resources, we will find it incredibly difficult to deal with the additional cases, let alone pursue the close contacts of those cases. Directors of Public Health and teams are already at full capacity. We would like to request that the appropriate resources are given to local authorities to ensure we have the capacity to deal with the cases that the national system cannot reach and close contacts.”

Public health teams and partners have been working incredibly hard to keep residents safe and now require the testing capacity and funding for locally supported contact tracing to be available so they can continue to protect communities. While hospital admissions are currently low, evidence from other countries like France and Spain shows that as cases rise so do hospital admissions and deaths. It is important to protect the most vulnerable and the economy, avoiding nationally imposed restrictions.

The Directors of Public Health have issued their joint statement publicly through Champs Public Health Collaborative, which works across the nine local authorities in Cheshire and Merseyside.

The Directors of Public Health are also encouraging all residents to play their part and unite together against COVID-19. This is a critical moment in the fight to halt the spread of the virus in Cheshire and Merseyside.

It only takes a few simple steps: wash your hands, avoid crowds, keep your distance, use face coverings, stay at home if you have symptoms and get tested. If you have symptoms, call 119 to ask for a test or visit: nhs.uk/coronavirus. Call 111 if your condition deteriorates.

About Champs Public Health Collaborative:

Led by the Cheshire and Merseyside Directors of Public Health, Champs Public Health Collaborative is outcome-focused working across the nine Local Authorities in Cheshire & Merseyside. Champs Collaborative enables resources to be shared and public health initiatives to be delivered across a larger area, improving local health outcomes for its population of 2.5 million people. The Collaborative delivers a number of priorities in partnership with Public Health England North West and the NHS in Cheshire & Merseyside and has been supporting the COVID response in Cheshire & Merseyside. The Champs support team lead, facilitate and enable the delivery of the priorities with local public health teams and partners. The Collaborative is responsible for enabling system leadership, collaborative commissioning, sector led improvement, finance, CPD/events and communications, mental wellbeing and public health intelligence. More information at www.champspublichealth.com

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