Contact tracing is a critical part of the effort to contain COVID-19, and as part of the work being led by the national NHS Test & Trace service, partners in Cumbria are stepping up to the challenge. The public are being warned of scammers seeking to take advantage to defraud people of money.
If people think they have symptoms of COVID-19 they should contact NHS 111 for advice about how to care for yourself and they will advise people to call NHS Test and Trace on 119.
The national NHS Test and Trace system operates across three levels. At Level 3 people who have COVID-19 symptoms are offered initial advice to self-isolate and to access testing.
Positive cases are escalated to Level 2, which is a team of 3000 clinical and public health trained contact tracers, who follow up positive cases, identify contacts, and get in touch with contacts to advise them to self-isolate as well. Level 2 also identify where cases and contacts may be particularly complex or have particularly important consequences.
These are escalated to Level 1 for further response and outbreak control. Level 1 combines Regional Public Health England teams and Cumbria’s local contact tracing team.
Cumbria’s Level 1 contact tracing team involves professionals from Cumbria County Council Public Health, District Councils’ Environmental Health teams, and local NHS Sexual Health teams. All these teams have prior experience in local contact tracing in other contexts.
Colin Cox, Cumbria’s Director of Public Health, said:
“We’ve worked incredibly quickly to bring together this local approach, the system is still evolving and developing but we now have the key infrastructure in place to do this vital work. It has been a truly joint effort between Local Authorities and the NHS, bringing together the key skills we need. Thankfully the number of new infections in Cumbria is currently low, so the team is not dealing with a high number of cases right now but they are ready to respond should the situation deteriorate.”
Dr Susanna Currie, Clinical Director for Cumbria Sexual Health Services, North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Trust said:
“I am delighted that Cumbria’s Sexual Health Teams are able to lend their expertise in contact tracing to this initiative. We have years of experience performing contact tracing for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) to ensure timely treatment and testing of those who have been exposed to STIs.
“We have fantastic communication skills well suited to conducting sensitive and detailed summaries to ascertain the adequate details for all those in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. The team are then able to advise close contacts what they need to do next and provide reassurance.”
The public are also being warned to be aware of scams, where people claiming to be contact tracers ask for payments or personal details while claiming an individual has had contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case. Frequently these are happening via social media.
If people are contacted by genuine contact tracers this will happen by phone or email. The contact tracer will identify themselves and the organisation they work for. If a caller claims to be from NHS Test and Trace and people are suspicious they can verify a call is genuine by hanging up and calling 119 themselves. If the caller is from a local council or the local NHS this organisation can be contacted directly should people wish to verify their identity. If they contact via email, their email address will end in either ‘.gov.uk’ or ‘nhs.uk’.
Genuine contact tracers will never:
• Ask you to dial a premium rate number to speak to us (for example, those starting 09 or 087)
• Ask you to make any form of payment
• Ask for any details about your bank account
• Ask for your social media identities or login details, or those of your contacts
• Ask you for any passwords or PINs, or ask you to set up any passwords or PINs over the phone
• Ask you to purchase a product
• Ask you to download any software to your device or ask you to hand over control of your PC, smartphone or tablet
• Ask you to access any website that does not belong to the Government or NHS
Detective Sergeant Stephanie Goulding, from Cumbria Police, said:
“Unfortunately, criminals will exploit every opportunity they can to defraud innocent people of their money, or steal their personal details.
“This service is extremely important in the fight against coronavirus. However, we understand the concerns people have about the opportunity for criminals to commit scams and we are aware from media reports that some scam texts are already in circulation.
“It’s important to remember that NHS Test and Trace, or the local contact tracing team, will never ask you for financial details, PINs or passwords. They will also never visit your home.”