THE county’s ‘frustrated’ director of public health is working to set up a local contact tracing system, alongside testing for key workers, in response to national failings.

Ansaf Azhar, speaking at a meeting of Oxfordshire’s Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee today, said he was waiting for approval from the Department of Health and Social Care but hoped to launch a system to reach those missed by NHS Test and Trace by mid-October.

He said authorisation was crucial, adding: "Otherwise we will have two systems running parallel causing a lot of confusion."

It comes as figures reveal just 61 per cent of close contacts of people with coronavirus in Oxfordshire were reached between May and September through the national regime, which launched a new app on Thursday to aid tracing.

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Mr Azhar said there had been two spikes in the county, the first in July around households in East Oxford, plus a more recent rise among young people. The public health chief said in both cases they had been picked up 'very early' by the county's surveillance unit and his team had managed to bring cases down again.

During the spike in young people in Oxford, he said they negotiated with the Department of Health to deploy mobile testing at Oxford Brookes University as a walk-in centre, with a mobile testing unit off Cowley Road also having a 'quite significant' uptake.

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Ansaf Azhar

Mr Azhar said the county was seeing cases rising again but it was not 'anywhere near' the rest of the country, adding: "That doesn't mean we can be complacent, there is a problem with testing uptake which can impact the numbers."

He said he was now having conversations with health leaders across the Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire area to look at securing testing locally for key workers, such as teachers and carers.

Mr Azhar added the testing situation was 'extremely challenging and frustrating' and problems had been raised repeatedly with the Department of Health and Social Care.

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He also stressed a 'huge amount' of work had been done at a local level around university reopening, with testing and making campuses covid-secure.

Mr Azhar said Oxfordshire was, in a sense, a 'victim of its own success' with the county seen as lower priority for testing slots as cases are comparatively small.

He added he has made the case with university's going back that this needed to be taken into consideration.

He said: "We recognise the frustration everyone has in regards to testing, a big part of it is outside of our control.

"We've escalated it as much as we can. We'll try our best to come up with a local solution, at least for the key workers.

"That conversation is at an early stage but we are keen to find a solution with our partners across the region."

He added:"We are in a stable place. It is a very fast moving situation and it is going to get worse before it gets better."