A cross-party group of MPs has said there’s “no clear evidence” the £22bn Test and Trace scheme contributed to lower coronavirus (Covid-19) infection levels.
Meg Hillier, chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) behind a critical report, urged the government to justify the “staggering investment of taxpayers’ money”.
The MPs said ministers had justified the vast expenditure on preventing a second national lockdown. But they they questioned the programme’s effectiveness noting that England is currently living under its third lockdown.
They also urged the scheme, led by Tory peer Dido Harding, to “wean itself off” reliance on thousands of “expensive” consultants and temporary staff. Some of them have been paid £6,624 per day. The PAC said the programme does publish a significant amount of weekly data. Some of this shows that full compliance with the self-isolation rules relied upon by the scheme can be low.
But it criticised the data for failing to show the speed of the process from “cough to contact”. Therefore it did not allow the public to judge the “overall effectiveness of the programme”.
The MPs also criticised the scheme for struggling to consistently match supply and demand for the service. This resulted “in either sub-standard performance or surplus capacity”.
And they said it remained “overly reliant” on contractors and temporary staff after having to initially act quickly to scale up the service rapidly.
The report said the scheme admitted in February that it still employs around 2,500 consultants, at an estimated daily rate of around £1,100. The best paid consultancy staff are on a daily rate of £6,624. The report said:
It is concerning that the DHSC (Department of Health and Social Care) is still paying such amounts – which it considers to be ‘very competitive rates’ to so many consultants
England’s chief medical officer professor Chris Whitty has warned of another “surge” in the virus later in the year. So the PAC has called for ministers to set out how the scheme will “cost-effectively maintain a degree of readiness”.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Budget last week included an additional £15bn for Test and Trace. This takes the total bill to more than £37bn over two years.
Labour’s shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Rachel Reeves said the report shows the significantly outsourced system has “failed the British people and led our country into restrictive lockdown after lockdown”. She said:
It underlines the epic amounts of waste and incompetence, an overreliance on management consultants, taxpayers’ cash splashed on crony contracts, all while ministers insist our NHS heroes deserve nothing more than a clap and a pay cut
Trades Union Congress general secretary Frances O’Grady said the government’s refusal to increase statutory sick pay had “massively undermined Test and Trace”.
Royal College of Nursing general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair said nurses “will be furious to hear of the millions of pounds being spent on private sector consultants”.
The government said a further 231 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for the virus as of 9 March. Meanwhile, there were a further 5,766 lab-confirmed cases in the UK.
Test and Trace systems have been deployed to high rates of success in countries other than the UK.
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