A damning official report by the Public Accounts Committee found the Tory Government’s Covid-19 Test and Trace scheme was ‘allocated eye-watering sums of taxpayer’s money…it set out bold ambitions but it has failed’
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Test and Trace has not achieved its main goal of a more normal way of life despite being handed £37billion, a report said.
The Public Accounts Committee said the scheme’s outcomes have been “overstated” or not met after getting huge funds – the equivalent of a fifth of the annual NHS budget.
Set up by former Health Secretary Matt Hancock last year, it has been slammed for relying on outsourcing firms to run call centres staffed by workers on the minimum wage.
The system also did not follow up to measure how many people told to self-isolate actually did so.
Only 96 million of 691 million lateral flow device tests issued by NHS Test and Trace were registered.
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The cross-party committee said most of the testing and contact tracing capacity paid for has not been used. PAC chair Dame Meg Hillier added: “The national Test and Trace programme was allocated
eye-watering sums of taxpayers’ money in the midst of a global health and economic crisis.
“It set out bold ambitions but has failed to achieve them.”
She said the continued reliance on over-priced consultants – paid an average of £1,100 per day – who brought about this state of affairs will also cost hundreds of millions.
MPs added as the programme is moved into the new UK Health Security Agency it needs a “proper long-term strategy”.
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Oxford University’s Prof Jim Naismith added: “Track and trace failed to halt the waves of infection and this was clear last year.
“Too small a proportion of contacts were identified and instructed to isolate in a timely manner.” Daily deaths surged to 263 on Tuesday – the highest since March– after dropping in previous days.
The Government has been rapped for not providing suitable financial support to get people who are likely to lose out on work to self-isolate.
Ahead of today’s budget by Rishi Sunak, Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth said: “He should apologise for blowing billions on this fiasco that failed to crush infections and avoid Boris Johnson lockdowns.
The Tories’ reliance on private firms – some with links to the party – to produce PPE at huge costs has also been a source of criticism.
The damning verdict on England’s contact tracing organisation came on the day 40,954 positive tests were reported.
The director of the Oxford Vaccine Group told MPs it is unfair to “bash the UK” over high Covid cases and compare it with the rest of Europe because Britain carries out more tests than most other countries.
Prof Sir Andrew Pollard, who helped create the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, suggested that could partially explain why the UK case rate was the highest in Western Europe.
Most countries in Europe also have more control measures in place than the UK.
Sir Andrew told the Commons Science and Technology Committee: “If you look across Western Europe, we have about 10 times more tests done each day than some other countries, this is per head of population.
“So we really have to always adjust by looking at the data… we do have a lot of transmission at the moment, but it’s not right to say that those rates are really telling us something that we can compare internationally.”
UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Handing jawdropping sums of money to private companies to run critical public health operations was a mistake from the off.
“Test and trace wasn’t fit for purpose and the virus continued to spread.
“Existing public health bodies or local authorities would have been much more efficient at building and running the programme. Public trust and take-up among communities may also have been higher.
“Instead of planning the system properly, ministers threw fistfuls of cash at contractors with little scrutiny. Money that could have created a sustainable public health legacy has instead been generating profits for private business.”