UK’s £37 Billion Test and Trace System had ‘No Clear Impact’ on the Pandemic, Say MPs

A worker wearing a face mask or covering due to the COVID-19 pandemic, stands near a sign for Britain's NHS (National Health Service) Test and Trace service, as he works at the entrance to a novel coronavirus walk-in testing centre in East Ham in east London, on September 17, 2020. …
DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images

The UK’s £37 billion coronavirus Test and Trace scheme has shown “no clear evidence” that it has been effective in combatting the Chinese virus, according to the House of Commons spending watchdog.

A report from the cross-party Public Accounts Committee on the NHS Test and Trace system said that the enormous budget of the programme has not been justified by results in slowing the spread of the virus.

At £37 billion over two years, the scheme has cost Britain’s 31 million active taxpayers over £1,100 each, an amount that has predominantly been funded by government borrowing and will now have to be paid for with rising taxes in the coming years.

The chairwoman of the committee, Labour MP Meg Hillier said per The Times: “Despite the unimaginable resources thrown at this project, Test and Trace cannot point to a measurable difference to the progress of the pandemic, and the promise on which this huge expense was justified — avoiding another lockdown — has been broken, twice.”

Hillier said that Test and Trace “must rapidly turn around these fortunes and begin to demonstrate the worth and value of this staggering investment of taxpayers’ money”.

The programme, which is run separately from the NHS itself, has cost the British taxpayer £22 billion last year, with a further £15 billion allocated for this year.

The report found that during the September surge of the virus, Test and Trace was incapable of ramping up to meet the increased demand for testing.

Conversely, Test and Trace was found to have vastly overestimated the need for contact tracers during the summer months, with just one per cent being used in August.

The MPs also said that compliance with the 10-day self-isolation requirement for those who tested positive was low, further reducing the effectiveness of the system.

The report said that because of the government’s reliance on outsourcing work to private firms like Serco, it “did not have any flexibility to change the level of tracing staff for the first three months”.

Senior Fellow at the Nuffield Trust think tank, Dr Billy Palmer, said: “The promise of a world-beating test-and-trace system has just not materialised, and the eye-watering sums of public money poured into this system are set to increase even further.”

The cross-party group of MPs also detailed the wasteful way in which the government allocated funding for the scheme. The report said that Test and Trace must “wean itself off its persistent reliance on consultants,” who charged an average of £1,100 per day, with some earning as much as £6,600 per day.

The report said that the most recent estimate put the number of consultants being used by the programme at around 2,500.

Dame Donna Kinnair, the head of the Royal College of Nursing, said that nurses — who are demanding a pay rise — “will be furious to hear of the millions of pounds being spent on private sector consultants”.

The former Permanent Secretary at the Treasury, Sir Nicholas Macpherson, wrote on social media that the programme “wins the prize for the most wasteful and inept public spending programme of all time.”

“The extraordinary thing is that nobody in the government seems surprised or shocked. No matter: the BoE [Bank of England] will just print more money,” Sir Nicholas added.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson defended the programme, saying: “Thanks to NHS Test and Trace that we’re able to send kids back to school and begin cautiously and irreversibly to reopen our economy and restart our lives”.

Follow Kurt Zindulka on Twitter here @KurtZindulka

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