Yorkshire Times
Weekend Edition
4:10 PM 25th June 2020

Open Letter From The Voluntary And Community Sector Of Sheffield To Health Secretary Matt Hancock

The following is the text of an open letter to Mr Hancock regarding Community 'Find, Test, Trace, Isolate, Support' and Resourcing Community Groups.

Deat Mr Hancock

Following the results of the first-of-its-kind Covid-19 community Test and Trace pilot in Meersbrook and Heeley in May 2020, the voluntary and community sector (VCS) in Sheffield is deeply concerned that the project’s findings are not being accounted for with the roll-out of the national Test and Trace programme - and that the key role of the VCS is being overlooked.

The ​Sheffield Community Contact Tracers​ pilot showed that it is possible to train volunteers to coordinate a ‘Find, Test, Trace, Isolate, Support’ programme at community level - by taking referrals from GPs, tracing contacts, and then urging them to self-isolate - but a significant limitation of this model was identified.

Some of the 58 contacts who were advised to self-isolate refused to do so and, crucially, some employers - often in the care sector - were not willing to allow volunteers access to their contact employees, therefore ‘breaking the chain’ of the tracing programme.

While a scheme with central government endorsement may carry more authority, ​we have yet to see an approach from the government about how contacts will be compelled to self-isolate and there is currently no publicly-available plan around providing the practical and emotional support those people will need to do so​.

Critically, those who do need to self-isolate for 14 days - which is a big ‘ask’ of anyone - are not being given the adequate financial support to ensure they can meet their basic costs of living.

We must recognise that the voluntary sector springs from and is deeply embedded within communities, and that its long-lasting and trusted relationships are essential to helping people keep themselves, their loved ones and their neighbours safe during this pandemic.

Our city’s charities and community groups have adapted to support those most in need, but this has severely impacted on their financial resilience. ​It’s vital that a ‘Find, Test, Trace, Isolate, Support’ programme is properly resourced at community level ​- including the essential support and aftercare to help people self-isolate - otherwise many voluntary and community organisations could soon be in dire straits.

Contact tracing is complex and it is only effective if it is done quickly, otherwise people who have not developed symptoms can easily pass the virus on unwittingly. Even if done efficiently, false negatives can account for as many as 30% of test results at present.

The Sheffield Community Contact Tracers and the wider voluntary sector in the city continue to work closely with Public Health and Sheffield City Council to supplement the national contact tracing scheme, focusing particularly on vulnerable people and communities whose voices are seldom heard who may not be happy - or even able - to use the national scheme.

It’s our belief that ‘shoe leather’, boots-on-the-ground community work will be far more effective at tracing and containing this virus than any national scheme could be, because the fine detail is absolutely critical. The voluntary sector has the trusted relationships and local understanding to lead on this work - but it needs support.

Therefore we ask the government to look closely at the results of the Sheffield pilot and to recognise the role the voluntary sector will play in Test and Trace by properly funding its critical work at community and neighbourhood levels.

Signed by the following:

1. Maddy Desforges, ​Voluntary Action Sheffield (VAS)
2.Jack Czauderna, ​Sheffield Community Contact Tracers
3.Debbie Mathews, ​Manor & Castle Development Trust
4.Tony Stacey, ​South Yorkshire Housing Association
5.Andy Jackson​, Heeley Trust Sara Gowen, ​Sheffield Young Carers
6.Tracey Nathan, ​Shelter Sheffield
7.Sue Pearson, ​Heeley City Farm
8.Louise Ellison, ​Sheffield Futures
9.Steve Chu, ​Age UK Sheffield
10.Fran Belbin, ​Pitsmoor Adventure Playground
11.Thomas Martin, ​City of Sanctuary Sheffield
12.Lesley Pearson, ​Flower Estate Family Action
13.Jonathan Roberts, ​Sharrow Community Forum
14.Louise Ashmore, ​Parson Cross Forum
15.Lucy Melleney, ​Darnall Well Being
16.Josie Soutar, ​Sheffield Flourish
17.Tanya Basharat, ​ShipShape
18.Ian Drayton, ​SOAR
19.Matthew Dean, ​Zest
20.Kate Rogers-Kay, ​St Timothy's Community Hub
21.Michael Ng, ​Sheffield Alcohol Support Service
22.Mark Storey, ​Sheffield Churches Council for Community Care (SCCCC)
23.David Bussue, ​Sheffield African
24.Caribbean Mental Health Association (SACMHA)
25.Andy Clarke, ​For Stocksbridge Leisure Centre (4SLC) 26.Emily Morton, ​Disability Sheffield