Campaigners demand company that ‘falsified data’ loses coronavirus track-and-trace contract

Hancock, contact tracing & WeOwnIt campaign
Peadar O'Cearnaigh

Serco is one of the main companies contracted to deliver the NHS’s coronavirus (Covid-19) contact tracing system. However, it has already admitted that it’s unlikely this system would “evolve smoothly”. This is one of the reasons why campaign group WeOwnIt is calling on health secretary Matt Hancock to:

end Serco’s role in contact tracing in England now. Put local public health teams and local health services (including GPs and NHS labs) back in charge of testing and contact tracing in the community.

The group is also unhappy with Serco’s track record of handling other sensitive government contracts, describing this handling as “abysmal”. So it’s launched an online petition to end Serco’s involvement in this system.

The campaign

On its website, WeOwnIt says it supports the use of contact tracing to help society get out of the current lockdown safely and save lives. It stressed:

Contact tracing is vital if we’re going to get out of lockdown safely, hug our loved ones again and save lives.

But instead of putting local public health experts in charge, health secretary Matt Hancock has handed over responsibility to Serco – a private outsourcing company that has already put lives at risk.

It has now been revealed that Serco’s CEO said he hopes it will ‘cement the position of the private sector’ in our NHS. Don’t let him get away with this.

Campaign concerns

WeOwnIt opposes Serco’s role in this scheme as it says Serco has “a shocking track record as a company”. It highlights the revelations in the Guardian where a leaked email stated that Serco CEO Rupert Soames admits he doubts the scheme “is going to evolve smoothly”.

As a result, We Own It wants the contact tracing scheme handed over “to local public health teams who have years of experience in contact tracing”. The campaign group goes on to explain:

Serco’s track record on asylum, housing, prisons and NHS contracts is abysmal.

So it launched this online petition to pressure Hancock to end Serco’s role in contact tracing. The Canary contacted WeOwnIt for further comment. A spokesperson said:

Our position is that we’re opposed to all privatisation of public services – including in the NHS – so, in short, yes – we’re opposed to Serco’s involvement in the system because it’s a private company.

It went on to highlight Serco’s poor data handling record stating:

Serco was forced to pull out of a contract to provide out-of-hours GP services in Cornwall after it emerged that the company had been falsifying data and that it had a ‘bullying culture’ which discouraged whistleblowing in the interests of patients.

What is contact tracing?

Contact tracing is a way of identifying who has been in close contact with people who have coronavirus. This then allows us to know who may be at risk of catching it. It’s a vital tool for fighting the pandemic and “a crucial part of the three-pronged plan for returning the world to normal: test, trace, isolate”.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) supports the use of contact tracing. It states:

When systematically applied, contact tracing will break the chains of transmission of an infectious disease and is thus an essential public health tool for controlling infectious disease outbreaks. This document provides guidance on how to establish contact tracing capacity for the control of COVID-19.

The Canary contacted Serco for comment but it had not responded by the time of publication.

People’s health

At the time of going to print, the online petition had gathered around 24,000 signatures. Campaigns officer at WeOwnIt Pascale Robinson told The Canary:

Whenever Serco is found in our public services, chaos follows. So much so that they have been fined millions of pounds in their handling of government contracts – whether that’s for charging the government for tagging people who turned out to have left the country or to have died, or for failure to maintain property standards in accommodation for refugees.

Serco should have no role whatsoever in the coronavirus response. It has proven time and time again that it is utterly unfit to run our public services. The government must scrap its contract with Serco, and put local public health teams and local health services back in charge of track and trace.

Featured image via YouTube – Sky News & Pixabay & Facebook – WeOwnIt

We need your help ...

The coronavirus pandemic is changing our world, fast. And we will do all we can to keep bringing you news and analysis throughout. But we are worried about maintaining enough income to pay our staff and minimal overheads.

Now, more than ever, we need a vibrant, independent media that holds the government to account and calls it out when it puts vested economic interests above human lives. We need a media that shows solidarity with the people most affected by the crisis – and one that can help to build a world based on collaboration and compassion.

We have been fighting against an establishment that is trying to shut us down. And like most independent media, we don’t have the deep pockets of investors to call on to bail us out.

Can you help by chipping in a few pounds each month?

The Canary Support us