NHS Test and Trace has been an “eye-watering” waste of taxpayers’ money, MP’s have found.
The £37bn funding – equal to almost a fifth of the entire health service budget – was used to hire more than 2,000 consultants who were employed on rates of more than £1,000 a day.
The report by the House of Commons public accounts committee found that the scheme failed to prevent Covid lockdowns and did not allow a return to normality.
Only 96 million of 691 million lateral flow device (LFD) tests distributed by NHST&T have been registered – 14% of the total. The Committee says “it is not clear what benefit the remaining 595 million tests have secured”.
While the Committee acknowledges some improvements since reporting earlier this year that NHST&T had “failed to deliver on its central promise of averting another lockdown”, it notes that “when under pressure, as it was over Christmas 2020 and more recently in April, performance deteriorates, with only 17% of people receiving tests within 24 hours in December 2020.”
Most of the testing and contact tracing capacity that NHST&T paid for has not been used, and despite previous commitments to reduce dependency on consultants, it employed more in April 2021 than in December 2020.
Urgent improvements are needed regarding public outreach with over 60% of people who experience COVID-19 symptoms reporting that have not been tested, and certain groups such as older people, men, and certain ethnic minorities less likely to engage with the service.
PAC Chair Meg Hillier said:
“The national Test & 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.”