The country’s much-maligned multi-billion pound COVID-19 test-and-trace system has improved, but is still missing targets and the results of millions of tests to find asymptomatic cases have not been reported, the National Audit Office have siad in a report out this morning.
Launched by Boris Johnson in May 2020 at a reported cost of £22 billion to oversee testing of those who thought they had the virus and then to trace the contacts of those who tested positive, the much criticised system had expanded its capacity and improved its performance since a report last year found it was failing to meet its objectives.
During a surge in cases in December, only 17% of people received test results in 24 hours against a target of 90%, the NAO said.
Since the government embarked on a mass testing programme to find asymptomatic cases in October, 691 million lateral flow test kits had been sent out in England, but the results of only 14% – 96 million – had been returned.
The report also noted that while the government’s scientific advisers said for the system to be effective no more than 48 hours should elapse between a case being identified and their contacts isolating, between January and April the median time varied between 74 and 97 hours.
The NAO said the programme, which had underspent its budget by 8.7 billion pounds, required public compliance to work, but this was “still low or variable” with only a minority of those with symptoms requesting a test or self-isolating.
“Some pressing challenges need to be tackled if it is to achieve its objectives and deliver value for taxpayers, including understanding how many lateral flow devices are actually being used and increasing public compliance with testing and self-isolation,” NAO head Gareth Davies said.