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COVID-19: ‘Unimaginable’ cost of Test and Trace

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The Test and Trace programme cost £22bn The Test and Trace programme cost £22bn

The Test and Trace programme (NHST&T) failed to deliver central promise of averting another lockdown despite billions of pounds in funding, a report from the Public Accounts Committee has found.

According to the report, between May 2020 and January 2021, daily UK testing capacity for COVID-19 increased from around 100,000 to over 800,000 tests. NHST&T had also contacted over 2.5 million people testing positive for COVID-19 in England and advised more than 4.5 million of their associated contacts to self-isolate. But the percentage of total laboratory testing capacity used in November and December 2020 remained under 65%, and even with the spare capacity, NHST&T has never met the target to turn around all tests in face-to-face settings in 24 hours. Low utilisation rates, well below the target of 50%, persisted into October last year.

Read more: Declining COVID-19 deaths ‘reassuring’ but NHS still under pressure

‘The £22 billion for test and trace is about the annual budget of the Department for Transport. Test and Trace still continues to pay for consultants at £1000 a day,’ said Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee.

‘Yet despite the unimaginable resources thrown at this project Test and Trace cannot point to a measurable difference to the progress of the pandemic, and the promise on which this huge expense was justified - avoiding another lockdown – has been broken, twice.’

Of particular concern was the high sums paid to private-sector consultants associated with the programme. According to the report, by the end of December 2020, the Department of Health and Social Care had signed over 600 contracts for NHST&T-related services. At the beginning of November 2020, a ministerial announcement said there were 2,300 consultants and contractors working on NHST&T.

When the Committee took evidence in mid-January, the Department estimated that from consulting firm Deloitte alone there were still around 900 contractors on the books. In early February NHST&T said it was still employing around 2,500 consultants, at an estimated average daily rate of around £1,100, with the highest daily rate paid of £6,624.

Read more: More than a million more people invited for COVID-19 vaccine

‘Nursing staff who have been offered a 1% pay increase will be furious to hear of the millions of pounds being spent on private-sector consultants. The public know more nurses, not more highly-paid consultants, means better care,’ said Royal College of Nursing Chief Executive and General Secretary, Dame Donna Kinnair.

‘The Government needs to move nursing staff up their list of priorities or they risk losing those who they have relied on from the very beginning of the pandemic. They have delivered exceptional patient care throughout this crisis and are at the forefront of the vaccination programme.’

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