Test and Trace scheme has had ‘no clear impact’ despite £37bn budget

According to a new report, MPs say that there is “no clear evidence” that the Test and Trace scheme actually works (Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images)

According to a new report, MPs say that there is “no clear evidence” that the Test and Trace scheme actually works.

Despite the UK government setting aside a budget of £37 billion for the Test and Trace, the impact of the initiative remains unclear.

Low compliance of self isolation

Meg Hillier, the chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC), urged the Government to justify the “staggering investment of taxpayers’ money”.

The PAC said that the Test and Trace scheme was set up in order to prevent future lockdowns, but since its creation, there have been two more.

The PAC said that the programme publishes a significant amount of weekly data, including some that shows full compliance with self isolation rules, which the scheme relies upon, can be low.

It criticised the data for failing to show the speed of the process between “cough to contact”, and therefore not allowing the public to “judge the overall effectiveness of the programme”.

‘Failed the British people’

The report said that the scheme admitted in February that it still employs around 2,500 consultants, at an estimated daily cost of around £1,100, with the highest paid consultancy staff on £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.”

Labour’s Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Rachel Reeves said that 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.”

Trade Union Congress general secretary Frances O’Grady also said that the Government’s refusal to increase statutory sick pay has “massively undermined Test and Trace”.

The news comes after it was revealed that NHS staff in England are set for a one per cent pay rise, despite having been promised more, with Royal College of Nursing general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair saying that nurses “will be furious to hear of the millions of pounds being spent on private sector consultants”.

‘NHS Test and Trace is essential’

Interim Executive Chair of the National Institute for Health Protection Baroness Dido Harding, who leads the scheme, said that she felt that the report was “old news”, and based on data that only included just half of the system’s life.

She said: “NHS Test and Trace is essential in our fight against Covid-19 and regular testing is a vital tool to stop transmission as we cautiously ease restrictions.

"Protecting communities and saving lives is always our first priority and every pound spent is contributing towards our efforts to keep people safe - with 80% of NHS Test and Trace’s budget spent on buying and carrying out coronavirus tests.

“After building a testing system from scratch, we have now carried out over 83 million coronavirus tests - more than any other comparable European country - and yesterday alone we conducted over 1.5million tests.

"We are now rolling out regular rapid asymptomatic testing which is supporting children to go back to school, people to go to work and visitors to see their loved ones in care homes.

“NHS Test and Trace has successfully reached 93.6% of the contacts of positive cases - with 98% being contacted within 24 hours, and the contact tracing service has already reached more than 9.1 million cases and contacts, making a real impact in breaking chains of transmission.”

‘Getting the right balance has been an ongoing challenge’

Responding to the PAC report on the national Test and Trace system, Councillor Ian Hudspeth, Chairman of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board, said: “Councils across the country have set up more than 300 local contact tracing partnerships, complementing the national system by successfully tracing many hard-to-reach cases.

“Getting the right balance between national and local measures to tackle the pandemic has been an ongoing challenge. Throughout, councils have called for greater involvement in decision-making and recognition that they have the skills, expertise, local knowledge and infrastructure to play a major role in combating local outbreaks.

“As this report states, councils could have been involved at an earlier stage. This could have led to a more swift and effective test and trace system.

“We have consistently called for a ‘team of teams’ approach, with the responsibilities of each part of the system clearly defined and properly resourced.

“It is important that we build on our experience to date and that councils, with their public health responsibilities, are trusted to deliver.”