Pressure mounts on government to sack NHS Test and Trace chief

The Canary

The government is resisting pressure to sack the head of NHS Test and Trace. It comes amid deepening concern from ministers and MPs that the system is failing to stem the spread of coronavirus (Covid-19).

“Untenable”

Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis insisted that baroness Dido Harding was doing “a very good job”. This is after one Conservative MP called for her to be replaced by a senior military commander.

However, Labour warned that Harding’s position was “untenable”, after it emerged that ministers were considering cutting the time people have to self-isolate if they’ve been in contact with someone who has the disease. They were considering the change because of concerns over public compliance.

At the same time, it appears Boris Johnson has become “disillusioned” with the data he’s receiving from Test and Trace. Because some of the figures he was given reportedly turned out to be inaccurate.

“Vacuum of leadership”

In a scathing attack, senior Tory backbencher Bernard Jenkin said there was a “vacuum of leadership” at the top of the organisation. He also said that public consent and co-operation was “breaking down”.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Jenkin said Harding should be given a “well-earned break”. This is so she and others can “reflect on the lessons learned so far”. Jenkin suggested that a senior military figure should be appointed in her place. He said:

There is a spaghetti of command and control at the top, which is incapable of coherent analysis, assessment, planning and delivery.

The immediate priority is to fill the vacuum of leadership in Test and Trace, which is destroying cooperation and compliance.

Government harnessed the military to regain control in the foot and mouth crisis; the Prime Minister should follow that example today, by installing a single leader, a three or four star military commander with a reputation for handling complexity under stress.

Jenkin chairs the Liaison Committee of senior MPs which questions the prime minister twice a year. Appearing on Sophy Ridge on Sunday, he insisted his comments about Harding had been meant “kindly”. He said that she was a “tremendous asset”.

However, he added:

The Test and Trace capability clearly needs to move up several gears and it’s what leadership does, not who leadership is that really matters. It is the sense that there is a lack of an overall strategy which I think is at the heart of the problem.

In her defence

During a round of broadcast interviews, Lewis rejected calls for Harding, a Conservative peer, to be dismissed. Although he did acknowledge that the service needed to improve. He told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme:

What Dido has done is put together and drive forward a team that has come on so much in the last few months.

We want to see it improve, we want to see it grow and get better and better. That’s how we fight this virus. But actually I think Dido and the team have done a very good job to get to where we are.

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