‘Profiteering in health care’ has caused an ‘inefficient’ and ‘potentially unsafe’ test and trace scheme

Support us and go ad-free

The public is rightfully outraged by the government’s coronavirus (Covid-19) testing nightmare. Those with symptoms can’t even get tested, despite testing centres looking empty. And even if you are lucky enough to get a test, you’ll probably have to wait longer than you thought for the results.

In my house, people with possible symptoms have tried to book a test online, but failed. The government website states that there are no testing facilities in our area, despite there being one just a few minutes’ walk from the house.

I walked to the testing centre to talk to the staff. “We’re fully booked,” I was told, despite the facility looking completely empty. “You need to try booking on the website every hour. But if any of you have symptoms, you can come here without an appointment. But only if you have symptoms.”

 

Covid testing centre, Bristol
This testing centre in Bristol is empty, despite being fully booked

 

This information, however, isn’t widely available. Bristol Live reported that people have been turning up to test centres without appointments. But only out of desperation because they haven’t been able to book a test online.

The government has failed us

But the current scandal over testing is just the latest in a long line of government failures that have caused suffering and cost lives. And a damning new report from Save Our Hospital Services (SOHS), a campaign group based in Devon, documents these failures and gives us a needed reminder of past government actions:

Read on...

Support us and go ad-free

by mid-March the Government had called off all contact tracing efforts, deciding instead to let the virus ‘move through the community’ at a rate that – it hoped – would not overwhelm healthcare services. Rather than committing the resources that would be needed for local public health officers to trace the growing number of cases, on 19 March the Government removed COVID-19’s classification as a high consequence infectious disease.

NHS labs could have used these weeks to build testing capacity, but they were waiting for PHE [Public Health England] to evaluate the available testing kits and reagents. These evaluations were not completed until late March. A microbiologist at NDDH went on the record to say that he and his lab team had offered to test nursing home residents in early April, as they had the capacity and “nobody else was doing anything”. But NHS executives ordered his team “to back off. They said, this is not your job. This is a PHE job.” And it was clear by this time that PHE was completely over-stretched.

Serco’s services are ‘unfit for purpose’

Meanwhile, #SercoTestAndTrace is trending on Twitter, and outrage is growing at the company which has been paid almost £46 million to run the UK’s testing service.

The Canary has reported on a number of Serco’s dodgy practices, including the fact that it shared hundreds of contact tracers’ email addresses. In 2019, the company was fined nearly £23 million by the Serious Fraud Office over an electronic tagging scandal, while earlier this year it was fined more than £1 million for other government contract failures.

SOHS has pointed out the failings of outsourcing to private companies. It said in its press release:

The national Track and Trace system, outsourced to Serco, has proved unfit for purpose. Local public health officers are now filling the gaps, but they should have been at the heart of track and trace from the start.

SOHS explained that:

By June, it was clear that public health teams – despite their lack of funding, and being ‘out of the loop’ of the national testing regime – were doing a far better job of tracing contacts than the call centres set up by Serco. A quarter of the 31,000 people referred to national Test and Trace in June were not reached, and almost a third of those who were reached did not provide any contacts. Pillar 1 NHS hospital testing with local authority follow-up traced almost 100% of contacts.

End privatisation

SOHS gives a long list of recommendations, which the government would do well to listen to. These include:

An end to profiteering in our health and social care system; all private contracts to be subject to public scrutiny and transparency rules, and privatised services to be brought back into public provision

And it argues that:

Instead of setting up a new, inefficient, potentially unsafe scheme in the private sector, existing public health systems should have been given the resources to expand. GP surgeries are ideally placed to manage testing for their local area. Most patients could self-test, and skilled support would be on hand for anyone who found this difficult.

Over the years we have seen our government outsourcing anything it possibly can – from the railways to prison services – to private companies. So it’s no surprise that key services for fighting coronavirus are also privatised. But maybe this latest disaster is the final straw. How many lives do we need to lose unnecessarily before we realise that the government and its handpicked favourite companies are to blame, and hold them to account?

Featured image via Eliza Egret

Support us and go ad-free

We need your help to keep speaking the truth

Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.

Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.

We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.

In return, you get:

* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop

Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.

With your help we can continue:

* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do

We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?

The Canary Support us