MPs slam UK's £22bn Test and Trace programme for failing to provide evidence that it slows COVID pandemic

'Most wasteful and inept public spending programme of all time'


The UK's eye-wateringly expensive Test and Trace system has failed to provide any data showing it is effective in slowing the spread of COVID-19, according to a damning report from MPs.

The influential Public Accounts Committee (PAC), a spending watchdog made up of MPs from across the political spectrum, pointed out that despite the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) justifying the staggering scale of investment in the centralised NHS Test and Trace organisation on the grounds it would help prevent a second coronavirus lockdown, two more have been necessary since spring 2020.

"There is still no clear evidence to judge NHS Test and Trace's overall effectiveness," MPs said.

Since one of the UK's biggest ever corporate cyber-crimes happened on her watch as TalkTalk CEO, the Queen of Carnage Baroness Dido Harding was an obvious choice to head up the NHS Test and Trace system so vital to the nation's pandemic response when it was created in May 2020.

During the PAC hearing in January, Harding, wife of Tory MP John Penrose, said Prime Minister Boris Johnson asked her directly to lead the programme.

While the PAC noted that DHSC and NHS Test and Trace regularly published data on testing and tracing performance, the report said they do not show how effective the programme is at reducing infections.

"For example, they do not show the total time from someone developing symptoms to being advised to self-isolate following a positive test; nor the time from someone being in close contact to a person with the virus and being advised to self-isolate. In its review of these data, the Office for Statistics Regulation noted that they do not yet allow people to judge 'the impact the programme has on reducing the spread of COVID-19'," the report said.

In early February 2021, NHS Test and Trace 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.

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"It is concerning that the DHSC is still paying such amounts – which it considers to be 'very competitive rates' – to so many consultants," the report said.

But while consultants have worked in technical roles, moving test data around the complex NHS system has also required IT contracting without competition, according to DHSC.

For example, in January NHS Digital awarded an £8m contract without competition to X-Lab, which builds healthcare software systems to ensure coronavirus test results are matched to patient records.

The total spending on NHS Test and Trace is expected to be £37bn in total, with £7bn yet to be allocated. A further £15bn was earmarked in last week's budget.

The Test and Trace app had an inauspicious start, built on a centralised database of contacts it was heavily criticisied and ultimately abandoned last summer in favour of a decentralised app based on tech provided by Apple and Google. The scrapped app cost £14m.

Following the PAC report, former Treasury mandarin Nick Macpherson took to Twitter to say the programme "wins the prize for the most wasteful and inept public spending programme of all time". ®

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