Boris Johnson’s £37billion Test and Trace service is facing fresh criticism after a damning new report found that it had lost track of nearly 600 million Covid tests.
The National Audit Office spending watchdog concluded that the system was still “failing to deliver value for taxpayers”, with a lack of any targets for self-isolation by the public and a continued reliance on private consultants.
Test and Trace, which was run by Tory peer Dido Harding, has already come under fire for its use of private firms Serco and Deloitte and its repeated failures in 2020 to track down contacts of people who had Covid.
The latest report sets out an array of problems, including paying for tracing staff it does not use, the use of emergency procurement powers that hand out contracts without competition, and a lack of data-sharing with public health chiefs which obstructed efforts to tackle local outbreaks.
In the 6 months from November 2020 to April 2021, it failed to reach nearly 100,000 people who had tested positive for Covid and as result failed to identify their contacts who could potentially infect others.
The NAO also criticised Matt Hancock’s decision to absorb its functions into a new UK Health Security Agency, saying there was ‘a risk that the restructuring will divert NHS Test and Trace’s attention away from efforts to contain the spread of the virus.’
It has given the government until October to sort out the problems, including how it will ‘best support citizens to come forward for tests and comply with self-isolation requirements,’ a clear signal that the watchdog believes the public will require better incentives or higher payments to home quarantine.