NHS Test and Trace criticised as 'eye-watering' waste of money in damning report

27 October 2021, 00:09 | Updated: 27 October 2021, 00:14

MPs have claimed the NHS Test and Trace app has not achieved its main objective.
MPs have claimed the NHS Test and Trace app has not achieved its main objective. Picture: Alamy

By Sophie Barnett

The NHS Test and Trace programme has been criticised as an "eye-watering" waste of taxpayers' money which did not achieve its objective in a damning report by MPs.

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The report by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said that the NHS Test and Trace programme has not succeeded in helping break chains of transmission of coronavirus since its launch in May last year, nor has it helped a return to a more normal way of life.

The report states that the programmes outcomes have been "muddled" and a number of its aims have been "overstated or not achieved".

This is despite the programme being pumped with the equivalent of 20% of the NHS's entire annual budget - £37 billion over two years.

The committee also criticised handling of the cash, highlighting that the programme has still not managed to reduce the number of expensive contractors - who are paid an average of £1,100 per day - and has not developed a "flexible" approach to using laboratories, which "risks wasting public money".

Read more: 'No clear evidence' £37bn Test and Trace system reduced Covid cases

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MPs on the cross-party committee said the programme needs a "proper long-term strategy".

Dame Meg Hillier, chair of PAC, said the "continued over-reliance on consultants is likely to cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of pounds".

"The national Test and Trace programme was allocated eye-watering sums of taxpayers' money in the midst of a global health and economic crisis," she said.

"It set out bold ambitions but has failed to achieve them despite the vast sums thrown at it."

Read more: Govt's 'catastrophic' Covid response biggest public health failure in history - report

Dame Hillier also criticised that out of 691 million lateral flow tests sent out, only 14% had results reported.

"The continued reliance on the over-priced consultants who 'delivered' this state of affairs will by itself cost the taxpayer hundreds of millions of pounds," she said.

"For this huge amount of money we need to see a legacy system ready to deliver when needed but it's just not clear what there will be to show in the long term. This legacy has to be a focus for government if we are to see any value for the money spent."

The report also highlighted the issue with the uptake of Test and Trace services.

It said "only a minority of people experiencing Covid-19 symptoms get a test", with some groups less likely to take tests compared with those who are more vulnerable.

Earlier this month, the chair of Parliament's Science and Technology Committee - which put the Covid report together alongside the Health Committee - described Test and Trace as the "real failure" of the pandemic.

Greg Clark spoke to Tom Swarbrick on Sunday following deep criticism of the government's response to the pandemic upon the release of the report.

"£37 billion on test and trace, is that money well spent?" Tom asked.

Mr Clark's swift answer was "no".

He pointed out that it was "an extraordinary sum of money" to spend on a system that didn't work efficiently.

"That is a thousand pounds for every household in the country."

"When you consider the uses of taxpayer money...the performance of NHS test and trace coupled with the money that has gone into it...that is a real failure," Mr Clark added.

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Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), defended the system which she says has "played an essential role in combating this pandemic" and is "saving lives every day".

"As the Public Accounts Committee acknowledges, there have been improvements in testing capacity, turnaround times and speed and reach of contact tracing - and improved collaboration with local authorities," she explained.

"The fact is NHSTT is saving lives every single day and helping us fight Covid-19 by breaking chains of transmission and spotting outbreaks wherever they exist.

"More than 323 million tests have now been carried out across the UK. NHSTT has now contacted more than 19.9 million people, helping to slow the spread of the virus.

"Testing, contact tracing and the wall of defence built by our vaccination programme are all fundamental to our ongoing efforts to keep people safe as we return to a more normal way of life."