Local contact tracing: Norfolk

A community contact tracing service was launched in Norfolk at the start of September. It is run in partnership between the county council and districts. This case study is part of a series on local contact tracing.

  • Norfolk launched its contact tracing service in early September
  • A central team at the county council works in partnership with the seven district, borough and city councils
  • An IT system set up during lockdown to support the shielding programme is being used to support and control the service

Local context

Norfolk is home to more than 900,000 living across seven district and city councils.

The county currently has some of the lowest levels of infection in the country. The highest rates of infection are in Norwich City, the Borough or Great Yarmouth and Breckland, although they have still been below the national average for much of the pandemic.

Although the region is managing nationally significant workplace outbreaks in its food process industry. A significant one was seen at a poultry factory in late summer. Contact tracing has been done for these under the council’s role in helping deal with complex outbreaks.

What was done

A community contact tracing service was launched at the start of September. It is run in partnership between the county council and districts.
The county’s customer service team handles the calls to those who test positive and are passed down by the national Test and Trace team.

If they cannot be reached within 24 hours or if contact data is not available or cannot be sourced from county council datasets, the districts are asked to supply any extra contact information they may have and if that does not help the districts are asked to go door-to-door to see if they individuals can be found. The service operates seven days a week as necessary.

Head of Customer Service and Development Michelle Carter said: “We set it up from scratch within a week. We had just recruited some extra customer services staff to deal with our seasonal peak so we were able to set them aside the contact tracing work. “They do the role alongside the contact centre work so it means we have been able to pull them in and out as required. That has worked very well.”

The impact

There are now nine customer service staff designated to work as contact tracers overseen by one supervisor, who allocates cases, and a public health consultant who can help them with any complex cases that may need to be sent to tier one, such as care homes and prisons. At the start of September, the team was dealing with five to 10 cases a day, but that has increased to between 20 and 30 on average.

Over 70 per cent are reached and asked to isolate. Ms Carter said: “I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the success we have had. These are people who have not taken the calls of the national team. “We use a local number so I think that helps alongside being able to identify better contact details due to our local information systems and closer relationships with the residents and, where necessary, going out door-to-door.”

Lessons learned

One of the reasons Norfolk was able to put its contact tracing service together so quickly is that it was able to build on the work undertaken during lockdown.
Under the direction of the community resilience delivery group, a sub group of the local resilience forum, a programme to support people who were shielding or vulnerable to the pandemic was established.

This included implementing an IT system support by Hitachi, which allowed the county council and its districts to share information to help support those who were shielding or in need of help. The Norfolk Vulnerability Hub means requests for extra contact details or home visits can be raised by the county’s contact tracers and sent to the districts easily and securely.

South Norfolk and Broadland District Council Director of People and Communities Jamie Sutterby, who is co-chair of the community resilience delivery group, said: “There are extra complexities setting up something like this in two tier areas.
“The Norfolk vulnerability hub has made a crucial difference and means we have had the ability to make the most of the local knowledge of district councils as soon as we went live with the contact tracing service.” He also said districts have been given flexibility to fulfil the local door-to-door contact tracing in the way that works best for them and their geographies.

“Each district has slightly different models to support their community the best, based on their local understanding. What works in Norwich won’t necessarily work in rural Norfolk.

“Some have used environmental health officers, while others have deployed housing officers. There are also great examples of voluntary sector partners being brought in. Giving local flexibility is important.”

Next steps

Despite having the vulnerability hub, Norfolk is still looking to improve the integration of IT.

Alongside the hub, Hitachi also supports an outbreak management system where Norfolk is able to log all the information about the positive cases, their contacts and where they have been.

This is run separately to the national CTAS system. Ms Carter said: “The outbreak system is essential – it provides us with a rich source of information about the spread of the virus in Norfolk. We cannot get that from the CTAS system because of the way it has been set up and our limited access. It does lead to some double logging of information, which is frustrating and inefficient. Ideally in the future we would be able to bring this all together.”

Alongside this, Norfolk is preparing for rising infection rates. The team of nine contact tracers currently have the capacity to deal with up to 120 cases a day.

But Ms Carter has also identified another group of around 70 staff from other council departments that can be brought in if needed. “They are at different stages of the training. But we know if cases start to rise we are in a strong position to increase the workforce.”

Contact details

Michelle Carter
Head of Customer Service and Development, Norfolk County Council