Unite and UNISON have today criticised the government’s spending on the NHS Test and Trace programme, which was found to have had “no clear impact”.
MPs today warned that the impact of the NHS Test and Trace scheme is still unclear, despite the UK government earmarking £37bn to fund it over two years.
The findings came from a report by the Public Accounts Committee, which said that the scheme was set up to help prevent future national lockdowns – but since its creation there had been two more national lockdowns to suppress the transmission of Covid-19.
The report said the government spending was “unimaginable” and warned that the taxpayer could not be treated like an “ATM machine”.
In response, Baroness Dido Harding, head of the National Institute for Health Protection which runs the system, pointed out that NHS Test and Trace had been built from the ground up and was now carrying out more tests than any other comparable country.
She added that it had been improving with more people who received a positive test being reached and more of their close contacts being asked to isolate.
However, the MP’s report highlighted several issues with NHS Test and Trace, including:
- An over-reliance on consultants, with some being paid more than £6,600 a day
- A failure to be ready for the surge in demand for tests seen last September
- Never meeting its target to turn around tests done face-to-face within 24 hours
- Contact tracers only having enough work to fill half their time even when cases were rising
- A splurge on rapid tests with no clear evidence they will help
The chairwoman of the committee, Meg Hillier, said it was hard to find a “measurable difference” that the test-and-trace system had made.
She said: “The promise on which this huge expense was justified – avoiding another lockdown – has been broken, twice.”
Trade unions have responded to the report by criticising the government for committing so much taxpayers money to a scheme that has had minimal impact.
Unite’s Assistant General Secretary for Politics & Legal, Howard Beckett, said that the government’s defence of Test and Trace was “a disgusting insult” to those who have lost loved ones during the pandemic and criticised the government for putting “private company profiteering before protecting lives.”
Mr Beckett said on Twitter:
Boris Johnson, Grant Shapps & Dido Harding today defending track & trace, claiming it has saved lives, leaves a nasty taste in my mouth. It is a disgusting insult to those who have lost loved ones.
These politicians put private company profiteering before protecting lives.
— Howard Beckett (@BeckettUnite) March 10, 2021
UNISON head of health Sara Gorton labelled the Test and Trace system “sub-standard” and called for the government to use funds to increase nurses pay instead. She said: “A successful test and trace programme was essential if the virus was to be controlled and further spikes prevented. But huge sums of money were spent on sub-standard parts of the system. Billions have been frittered away. And existing public health contact-tracing expertise ignored.
“Recognising the immense effort of NHS staff during the pandemic would be a far better use of public money. It would cost a fraction too. A decent pay rise is affordable, will lift flagging staff morale and prove popular with the public. It would also protect the NHS and boost struggling local economies.
“The biggest cost for all of us will be if the government fails to invest in the NHS workforce. The chancellor and PM must do the right thing and give staff what they’ve more than earned.”