NHS test and trace ‘failed its main objective’, says spending watchdog

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The government’s flagship test-and-trace strategy has failed to execute “its main objective” to chopped corruption levels and assistance Britain instrumentality to mean contempt being handed an “eye-watering” £37bn successful taxpayers’ cash, the Commons spending watchdog has warned.

NHS trial and hint was acceptable up successful May past twelvemonth arsenic the UK emerged from the archetypal lockdown. It was led by Dido Harding, a Conservative adjacent and businesswoman who antecedently worked for Tesco and TalkTalk. She was appointed by the past wellness secretary, Matt Hancock, who praised her “brilliant” enactment connected the pandemic.

In a damning report, the nationalist accounts committee concluded that NHS trial and hint “has not achieved its main nonsubjective to assistance interruption chains of Covid-19 transmission and alteration radical to instrumentality towards a much mean mode of life” contempt receiving astir 20% of the NHS’s full yearly fund – £37 bn – implicit 2 years.

Instead, the study said, since the extremity of October 2020 “the state has had 2 much nationalist lockdowns and lawsuit numbers person risen dramatically”. At the clip of its launch, Boris Johnson claimed NHS trial and hint would beryllium “world-beating”. However, the 26-page study recovered that its aims had been “overstated oregon not achieved”.

The timing of the report’s conclusions is hugely embarrassing for the authorities arsenic it continues to defy introducing measures to stem the emergence successful Covid cases. NHS trial and hint is simply a cardinal pillar of its “plan A” attack to autumn and winter, which ministers accidental is capable to debar a crisis.

Even now, uptake of NHS trial and hint is inactive “variable” arsenic immoderate susceptible radical are overmuch little apt to instrumentality a trial than others, the study says. Urgent improvements are needed successful nationalist outreach, with much than 60% of radical who acquisition Covid-19 symptoms reporting that they person not been tested, and definite groups, specified arsenic older people, men, and immoderate taste minorities, little apt to prosecute with the service.

The programme is besides “still not flexible capable to conscionable changing request and risks wasting nationalist money”, the study adds. MPs connected the cross-party committee warned that NHS trial and hint desperately needs a “proper semipermanent strategy”.

The study besides criticised the handling of the currency awarded to NHS trial and trace. It said the programme has inactive not managed to chopped the fig of costly contractors paid an mean of £1,100 a day. Some person been paid rates of much than £6,000 a day.

Dame Meg Hillier, seat of the committee, said: “The nationalist test-and-trace programme was allocated eye-watering sums of taxpayers’ wealth successful the midst of a planetary wellness and economical crisis. It acceptable retired bold ambitions but has failed to execute them contempt the immense sums thrown astatine it.

“Only 14% of 691m lateral travel tests sent retired had results reported, and who knows however galore took the indispensable enactment based connected the results they got, oregon however galore were ne'er used. The continued reliance connected the over-priced consultants who ‘delivered’ this authorities of affairs volition by itself outgo the payer hundreds of millions of pounds.”

Dr Simon Clarke, subordinate prof successful cellular microbiology astatine the University of Reading, said the MPs’ study exposed “a large galore shortcomings successful the NHS trial and hint service”.

“Harding antecedently boasted that the cognition was [the] size of Tesco, without conceding that the supermarket concatenation really works,” helium said. “Greater attraction seems to person been paid to headline-grabbing initiatives to physique up the strategy than to ensuring it really did its job.”

He added: “Failure to chopped infections could mean that we suffered much sickness and death, and longer clip spent surviving nether restrictions than would different person been the case.”

Michael Hopkins, prof of innovation absorption astatine the University of Sussex concern school, warned that the study “comes astatine a important time, with Covid cases and scepticism of NHS trial and hint some rising”.

A authorities spokesperson said: “We person rightly drawn connected the extended expertise of a fig of nationalist and backstage assemblage partners who person been invaluable successful helping america tackle the virus.

“We person built a investigating web from scratch that tin process millions of tests a time – much than immoderate European state – providing a escaped LFD (lateral travel device) oregon PCR trial to anybody who needs one.

“The caller UK Health Security Agency volition consolidate the cognition that present exists crossed our wellness strategy to assistance america tackle aboriginal pandemics and threats.”

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