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THE government was asked today why it took “£12 billion and seven wasted months to realise the blindingly obvious” inadequacy of its privatised test-and-trace system.
This question arose after a shift to more localised contact tracing was outlined by Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick on Sunday.
For months, NHS trusts and local authorities have been saying that they should be running the system – not privateers such as profit-driven government contractor Serco, which has been fined for falsely claiming payments from the public purse.
Seven months since the coronavirus outbreak hit Britain, infections are on the rise again and the government has admitted that its test-and-trace system – which Prime Minister Boris Johnson previously trumpeted as “world-beating” – is failing.
In August, the Department of Health began reducing the number of privately employed “testers” – many of them on minimum pay and zero-hours contracts.
Non-NHS call handlers were reduced from 18,000 to 12,000, and then to 10,000 last month. Neither the House of Commons nor the public were informed.
Labour MP Angela Eagle, whose Wallasey constituency in Merseyside is facing tighter lockdown restrictions, asked: “Why did it take this government £12 billion and seven wasted months to realise the blindingly obvious?”
Ian Hudspeth, who chairs the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board, said: “Councils’ unique expertise and understanding of their communities means they have been able to rapidly reach those who have tested positive and their contacts, to help contain the spread.
“Local contact-tracing services exist to support NHS Test and Trace, with latest figures showing they reached 97.1 per cent of close contacts who were asked to self-isolate.
“If we are to build upon these successful local efforts, this should be backed up with the necessary funding, up-to-date data and extra people on the ground needed to track and trace everybody affected.”
Last month, grassroots group the Doctors’ Association UK branded the coronavirus testing system “an utter shambles,” revealing that some people had been told to take round trips of up to 522 miles to be tested.
Dr John Lister of Health Campaigns Together said: “For far less than the projected cost of £12 billion, public-sector experts in public health, primary care and the NHS could deliver a much more effective system to track and contain the virus.”
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