NHS Forth Valley contact tracing team to disband
The 80-strong team in the area has been managing up to 700 cases a day in March as the Omicron variant – and its sub-variant B A2 which is now dominant – continues to have very high transmission rates.
But while numbers have been higher than ever, there has not been a surge in serious illness or death thanks to very high vaccination levels among the population and new anti-viral treatments that are now being used for more serious cases.
Routine contact tracing is due to end on April 30.
Dr Graham Foster said the changes were about “moving back to normality as much as we can but retaining our ability to respond to Covid outbreaks or should new variants come along which are more severe”.
“We now know that being immunised against Covid does not prevent you from catching Covid, but it does prevent you from getting seriously unwell,” he said.
A gradual withdrawal of most of the control measures were announced by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on March 15.
Changes from April 18 include people without Covid -19 symptoms no longer being asked to take regular lateral flow tests.
Dr Foster said that while the test and protect team would be disbanded, there would be a core group of staff that “would be ready to respond” at short notice if necessary.
He said: “We do expect there will be further variants of the virus and there is no way at this stage to know whether future variants will be less severe or more severe, so we have to be alert. ”
At the moment, NHS Forth Valley’s test and protect team of 32 contact tracers are working 7.5 hour shifts every day, seven days a week, covering 8am to 8pm.
The service currently employs 35.64 whole-time equivalent (WTE) contact tracers plus 3.8 WTE staff in training and leadership roles who are on fixed term contract until September 2022.
Anyone with a contract will be found another role in the health service.
Some of the staff have been seconded from other NHS roles and there are also bank staff who work regular shifts. Dr Foster said he was confident they would be able to reinstate a team if needed.