Covid: NHS Test and Trace an ‘eye-watering’ waste of taxpayers’ money after £37 billion funding, report says

At a cost of about £37 billion the programme has been criticised by the Public Accounts Committee as having failed to meet its main objective

The £37bn NHS Test and Trace programme “has not achieved its main objective” despite its “eye-watering” cost, according to a report by MPs.

The Public Accounts Committee’s (PAC) report is highly critical of the controversial programme, which was funded with the equivalent of a fifth of the NHS’ entire annual budget, with huge sums spent on expensive contractors and consultants.

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At a glance: 5 key points

  • The PAC’s report on the NHS Test and Trace is highly critical of aspects of the programme, with the committee chair saying it had failed to achieve the “bold ambitions” it set out
  • The report concluded that  “has not achieved its main objective to help break chains of Covid-19 transmission and enable people to return towards a more normal way of life”.
  • It also found that the programme’s “continued over-reliance on consultants is likely to cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of pounds”.
  • The report notes that uptake of services provided by Test and Trace is “variable” and “only a minority of people experiencing Covid-19 symptoms get a test”, with some groups less likely to take tests compared with others.
  • It also notes that the programme’s laboratories approach and contact centre usage is “still not flexible enough to meet changing demand and risks wasting public money”.

What’s been said?

Dame Meg Hillier, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said: “The national Test and Trace programme was allocated eye-watering sums of taxpayers’ money in the midst of a global health and economic crisis.

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

“Only 14% of 691 million lateral flow tests sent out had results reported, and who knows how many took the necessary action based on the results they got, or how many were never used.

“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.

“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.”

Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), said in a statement: “NHS Test and Trace (NHSTT) has played an essential role in combating this pandemic.

“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.

“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.”

A Government spokesperson said: “We have rightly drawn on the extensive expertise of a number of public and private sector partners who have been invaluable in helping us tackle the virus.

“We have built a testing network from scratch that can process millions of tests a day – more than any European country – providing a free LFD or PCR test to anybody who needs one.

“The new UK Health Security Agency will consolidate the knowledge that now exists across our health system to help us tackle future pandemics and threats.”