Senior Conservative MP calls for Dido Harding to be sacked

25 October 2020, 08:01

Dido Harding has been criticised over Test and Trace
Dido Harding has been criticised over Test and Trace. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

A top Tory MP has called for NHS Test and Trace boss Dido Harding to be sacked, saying "the immediate priority is to fill the vacuum of leadership in Test and Trace".

Sir Bernard Jenkin, who chairs the powerful Liaison Committee of senior MPs and is a key ally of Boris Johnson, said Baroness Harding "should be given a well-earned break".

His call comes just days after the Prime Minister admitted frustrations over the £12bn Test and Trace system following a question raised by LBC during a coronavirus press conference.

At the same news conference, Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said: "It's very clear there's room for improvement on all of that and therefore that would be diminishing the effectiveness of this."

It also coincides with a new opinion poll suggesting that half of voters, now disapprove of the government's handling of the pandemic, while fewer than one in three approve.

Sir Bernard, writing in The Sunday Telegraph, said: "Dido Harding, head of NHS Test and Trace, apparently says that she is struggling with what she inherited when arriving in the role, but during the summer, initial urgency subsided.

"Perhaps some of those exhausted leaders on the government frontline, like Dido Harding, could be given a well-earned break too; they could use their hard-won experience to help this group reflect on the lessons learned so far."

Sir Bernard also called for a military commander to be put in charge of the "failing" system.

"The challenge for the government is becoming one of public confidence," he said.

"Much incredible work is being done, but we are still a long way from the 'world-beating contact tracing system' promised in June.

"Announcing fresh targets (now 500,000 tests a day by the end of October) does not instil confidence, because people lack faith that there is a coherent plan.

"Instead, ministers should see this as an opportunity to make changes. This change must be visible and decisive."

Sir Bernard continued: "There is a spaghetti of command and control at the top, which is incapable of coherent analysis, assessment, planning and delivery.

"The directorates suffer a high level of churn. Data analysis has had three director-generals in five months. Bosses do not 'own' their staff: most are temporary appointments and hard to recruit because of a 'toxic culture'.

"'People want to get out as quickly as possible', MPs have been told. This is why the government is forced to rely on thousands of consultants at vast cost."

He adds: "The immediate priority is to fill the vacuum of leadership in Test and Trace, which is destroying co-operation and compliance.

"The Liaison Committee has called for military capability to play a greater role. Government harnessed the military to regain control in the foot and mouth crisis; the prime minister should follow that example today, by installing a single leader, a three or four star military commander with a reputation for handling complexity under stress.

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"Test and Trace should then be tasked with generating and sustaining a campaign targeted at achieving behaviour change by consent. The result would be a better process of virus containment which commands public confidence and compliance.

"But the government should also stop raising false hope that a single vaccine will be transformative. It may be some time before vaccines can make a major difference. So, what is the strategy?

"The government should establish a high-level, strategic working group, away from the immediate pressures of the crisis. It should produce a first draft of a white paper entitled Living with the Coronavirus."