Council staff provide friendly face of contact tracing in borough

Published Thursday 3 December 2020 at 11:11

Contact tracing is seen as a vitally important part of controlling the spread of Covid-19.

In recent months NHS Test and Trace has sought partnerships with local authorities to support the national system, passing through details of people who have been infected with the virus and asking them to make further contact.

The relatable local voices of council staff members will then call on a local number to offer further guidance, reassurance and signposting to support services.

Blackburn with Darwen Council are one local authority who’ve become involved with the work, with staff from teams across the Council drafted in to help. Those involved have had to balance the work with their day jobs while learning to adapt quickly to the new role and picking up the skills required to carry out this vitally important service.

Damien Cassidy is one such staff member whose normal job as a health trainer has taken on extra meaning this year, as he helps to manage the health and wellbeing of local people in the face of a deadly pandemic.

But why did the 36-year-old from Darwen say yes and what’s it like to work in this new role? He says:

Above everything else, I really wanted to do something to help. Balancing both jobs has been a challenge but nothing I’ve not been able to overcome. I really enjoy being able to connect with people who feel a little bit isolated, a bit anxious and are really unsure about things getting back to normal.

Damo’s role, after a period of training, has put him in touch with a range of people from across the borough to talk through their contacts as well as offering support.

And one of the key factors in enabling the work to go successfully, he says, is being able to bring a level of relatability as a member of the same community to the people he speaks to. He says:

The system is set up so people will receive a call from an 01254 number which is recognisably Blackburn with Darwen and I think that encourages more people to answer rather than if it was from an unknown number that might be a cold call. Then, as soon as you tell them who you are or where you’re ringing from, it breaks barriers down straight away and they want to listen to what you have to say.

We’re all also in exactly the same situation, we’re all in the same town living under the same restrictions and suffering the same consequences – so I think it helps people to know we relate to them and we’re all in it together.

The support he and colleagues are able to offer comes from a range of sources, from the local help hub, befriending service, help with weekly food shopping and food parcels to information and help with applying for financial support. He adds:

I think once people realise that local support is in place and that we are, as a borough, trying to resolve the situation together and get back to a normal way of life, it puts confidence in them. They know we’re on the other end of the phone to help. We’re just normal people like them.

A standard week’s work on contact tracing for Damo will be spread over three days and will see him calling between 8-10 people a day. Not everyone answers immediately but those he does get through to he’ll spend anything from 15 minutes to over an hour on the phone with.

We’re well organised as a team and we share the load so we don’t feel overwhelmed. And that’s also really important as it gives us that contact time with each person we call. Rather than ticking boxes we’re actually taking time to listen to each person, what their circumstances are and having that personal contact. You might get somebody who hasn’t spoken to anyone in three or four days and they might just want a friendly chat or the opportunity to sound off.

And has the feedback from the public been good?

I’ve had some people who didn’t realise the help hub was there or financial support was available or even realise that, as a local authority, we’re involved at that level so that’s good.

Quite a lot of people are really appreciative of us checking in with them and seeing how they are. For me that’s a nice feeling when they sound reassured. It’s almost like a sigh of relief from the person that you’re call can reassure them whether it’s financially or emotionally or however way.

And with that he’s off to carry out another call but not before a final message to the public:

Stay home, stay safe. If we have tried to call you and we’ve left a message, take note of that message. We’re here to support you from a local level, we’re not here to badger you, or anything like that. But just remember that we’re here for you and here to offer that support to everyone.

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