There is no evidence to show that the government’s £ 22bn test and trace program to combat Covid-19 in England contributed to a reduction in coronavirus infection levels, the parliamentary spending watchdog concluded.
In a report examining the rush to invest in the plan, the multi-party public accounts committee challenged ministers to justify the “staggering investment of taxpayers’ money” and criticized the use of private consultants who are paid up to £ 6,624. per day. .
The program, which has a larger budget than the Department of Transportation, is run by Dido Harding, who was appointed by Health Secretary Matt Hancock last year. At the time, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the country would have a “world” system.
The timing of the report’s conclusions is an embarrassment to the government, as it continues to refuse to grant a wage increase of more than 1% to healthcare workers.
The ministers had justified the huge expense to avoid a second national shutdown, but, questioning the effectiveness of the program, the MPs who compiled the report pointed out that England now lives below the third.
Meg Hillier, the chair of the committee, said the huge amounts spent on the scheme leave the impression that the public purse has been used as an ATM.
“Despite the unimaginable resources devoted to this project, testing and tracing cannot point to a measurable difference in the progress of the pandemic, and the promise on which this enormous expense was justified, avoiding another lockdown, has been broken. twice, “he said. . “The government cannot treat British taxpayers like an ATM. We need to see a clear plan and better controlled costs. “
The committee said the NHS program publishes a significant amount of weekly data, including some showing that compliance with the self-isolation rules on which the scheme is based may be low.
But he criticized the data for not showing the speed of the process from “cough to contact” and therefore not allowing the public to judge the “overall effectiveness of the program.”
“There is still no clear evidence to judge the overall effectiveness of NHS tests and traces. It is unclear whether its specific contribution to reducing infection levels, unlike the other measures introduced to deal with the pandemic, has justified its costs, “the report says.
MPs also criticized the scheme for struggling to constantly match supply and demand for the service and therefore “results in poor performance or excess capacity.” The program remained “too dependent” on contractors and temporary staff after initially having to act quickly to expand service quickly.
“Various stakeholders have asked why local authorities and NHS primary care agencies were not more directly involved in testing and tracing activities from the beginning, given their existing networks, experience and knowledge,” the report says.
MPs said the plan admitted in February that it still employs some 2,500 consultants, at an estimated daily rate of around £ 1,100, with the highest paid consulting staff at £ 6,624. But the program was not yet engaged with teachers, according to the report. “We are also concerned about the lack of engagement with school principals and education stakeholders in the implementation of rapid tests, and the lack of experience in general public health at the higher levels of testing and screening of the NHS,” said the parliamentarians.
Commenting on the report, Harding said: “NHS testing and tracing is essential in our fight against Covid-19. After building a test system from scratch, we have now conducted more than 83 million coronavirus tests, more than any other comparable European country, and yesterday alone we conducted more than 1.5 million tests. “
As England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty warned of another “spike” of the virus at the end of the year, the committee asked ministers to set out how the plan “will cost-effectively maintain a degree of readiness.”
Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s budget last week included an additional £ 15bn for testing and tracking, bringing the total bill to more than £ 37bn over two years.
Trade Union Congress general secretary Frances O’Grady said the government’s refusal to increase statutory sick pay had “vastly undermined testing and tracing.”
Experts who advised the government in the Emergency Scientific Advisory Group said in September that the testing program had only a “marginal” impact on transmission.
Whitehall’s spending watchdog, the National Audit Office, said in a report in December that not enough test results were released in 24 hours and that very few contacts of infected people were being contacted and told that isolate themselves. Some call handlers were also said to have been busy for only 1% of their paid hours in the first few days of service, rising to less than 50% in October.
An internal “business case” prepared by the Department of Health and Social Assistance in September justified spending billions on the controversial service because it would be a “main driver” to avoid a new economic shutdown.
Reacting to the report, Royal College of Nursing Executive Director Donna Kinnair said nurses will be “furious” to learn of the millions of pounds being spent on private sector consultants. “The public knows that more nurses, not more well-paid consultants, means better care,” he said.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism