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Track and trace bosses treated taxpayers as an ‘ATM machine,’ Labour charges

MPs say the government's programme failed to deliver despite spending £37 billion

TEST and Trace bosses treated taxpayers “as if they were an ATM machine,” Labour charged today after a panel of MPs found that the programme had failed to deliver despite spending £37 billion. 

The public accounts committee said that the scheme’s outcomes had been “overstated” or not met, despite it receiving lavish funding, equivalent to a fifth of the annual NHS budget. 

In a highly critical report published today, the committee said that the programme’s continued over-reliance on consultants — paid a whopping £1,100 a day on average — probably cost the taxpayers hundreds of millions of pounds. 

Committee chairwoman Meg Hillier told the BBC that Test and Trace, initially headed by Baroness Dido Harding, “massively overpromised for what it delivered.

“That is one of the biggest concerns. It is almost as if the taxpayer was an ATM machine,” she continued. “That lack of regard for taxpayer funding is a real concern for us as a committee.”

The report also found that the uptake of services provided by the programme was “variable,” with some vulnerable people much less likely to take a test than others.

Keep Our NHS Public, which has long called for the programme to be brought into public hands, urged ministers to learn lessons from the damning report. 

“The government should have used the NHS, including GPs, and the 44 public health laboratories to set up a publicly run and locally based system,” said group co-founder Dr Jacky Davis, a consultant radiologist. 

“Instead, they turned to the private sector, channelling a fifth of the NHS budget to management consultants and private companies who had no relevant experience in how to run these services.

“The government must learn the lesson, take Test and Trace back in-house and never again rely on the private sector to take over public health in a crisis.”

MPs on the cross-party committee said that, with the programme being moved into the new UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), formerly Public Health England, it needed a “proper long-term strategy.”

UKHSA chief executive Dr Jenny Harries said NHS Test and Trace had played an essential role in combating the pandemic and that improvements had been made. 

A government spokesperson claimed that ministers had “rightly” drawn on the expertise of public and private-sector partners, “who have been invaluable in helping us tackle the virus.”

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