What will contact tracers do once Covid cases are no more?

Questions have been raised about the role of contact tracers during times of low Covid activity in Shetland.

NHS Shetland’s Covid remobilisation plan includes requirements to maintain a fully resourced Test and Protect team until next year to rapidly respond to local outbreaks

But with comparatively few cases reported on the isles, and good progress with the vaccination rollout, NHS Shetland is exploring options for other roles to make use of the tracers’ time.

Public health principal Elizabeth Robinson was quizzed about the plans by Integration Joint Board chairwoman Emma Macdonald last Thursday.

“I understand the need to maintain Test and Protect teams and maintain contact tracers,” she said.

“I suppose my concern is there’s a lot of resource being put into this area, and how are these teams going to be utilised when we’re in the fortunate situation of having very low levels of infection.

“I’d like to know what these people are doing if they’re not contact tracing and testing and protecting.”

Ms Robinson said there were “ongoing discussions” about how to use the team.

Currently, the contact tracers are being used to book vaccination appointments, which Ms Robinson said wad been “incredibly helpful”.

She also said the team members were providing “mutual aid” to support other health boards with higher cases. 

Interim director of public health Susan Laidlaw said the role of contact tracing teams was a subject of interest across Scotland.

Dr Laidlaw was scheduled to attend a workshop on potential uses for the team after the meeting. 

She said roles such as telephone support to help people quit smoking was one area under consideration. 

While case numbers have been low over recent weeks, Dr Laidlaw said it would be important to maintain the expertise of the team members for any future outbreaks or pandemics.

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