THE NHS Test and Trace programme was last night described as “world beating ineptitude” by a North East MP after a damning report found it had failed to enable people to return to a more normal way of life despite being handed “eye-watering” sums of money.

A report from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said that the programme’s outcomes have been “muddled” and a number of its aims have been “overstated or not achieved”, despite being handed the equivalent of 20 per cent of the NHS’s entire annual budget – £37 billion over two years.

The Northern Echo:

The committee, which said the programme “had not achieved its main objective”, also criticised handling of the cash, highlighting that the scheme has still not managed to reduce the number of expensive contractors – who are paid an average of £1,100 per day – and has not developed a “flexible” approach to using laboratories, which “risks wasting public money”.

Test and Trace’s “continued over-reliance on consultants is likely to cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of pounds”, the report added.

Middlesbrough MP Andy McDonald said it was a “real slap in the face to all the people who have worked throughout the pandemic”, whilst Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham said “millions has been poured down the drain or thrown away on crony contracts.”

MPs have set out a series of recommendations and suggested improvements to the programme.

Dame Meg Hillier, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said: “The national Test and 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.

“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.”

Mr McDonald said: "This is an absolutely damning report into the Government’s programme of Test and Trace - £37 billion squandered. World beating ineptitude.

“This report must form part of the Public Inquiry into the Government’s handling of the Pandemic and we must get answers from this Government on how they intend to claw back the wasted billions of pounds, be it through windfall taxes or otherwise.

“We must see the full consequences of such a costly mishandling of the Test and Trace programme. This a is a real slap in the face to all the people who have worked throughout the Pandemic – they have been motivated by concern for their fellow citizens, for their sisters and brothers – not by greed and private profit.”

Mr Cunningham said: “The Tories’ incompetent handling of the pandemic means millions has been poured down the drain or thrown away on crony contracts – money that could have been used to extend furlough support or keep the £20 Universal credit uplift and support family finances."

The Northern Echo: Chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency Dr Jenny Harries, during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (Covid-19). Picture date: Tuesday October 19, 2021.

Mary Foy, City of Durham MP, said: “As cases remain high compared to our continental neighbours, especially in children, it is clear that Test and Trace has failed, and we once again find ourselves staring down the barrel of a chaotic Christmas.

"It is no surprise to me that a Public Accounts Committee report has concluded that our privately outsourced Test and Trace system has not achieved its main public health objectives despite being allocated £37 billion over the last two years.

"Despite paying extortionate daily fees to consultants, from the start we have heard reports in Durham of people being contacted incorrectly or being contacted too late, with seemingly little accountability over this programme's poor performance or spiralling costs.

"It pains me to know that 20% of the NHS’s entire annual budget has been squandered on a failed system when it could have been spent on funding more health and social care staff or improvements to hospitals instead.

"Boris Johnson has previously said that “greed” had helped us to defeat the virus, but it is precisely “greed” that has allowed so much money to be wasted on failed contracts, failed systems, and ultimately a failed pandemic response. “

Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), said in a statement: “NHS Test and Trace (NHSTT) has played an essential role in combating this pandemic.

She added: “The fact is NHSTT is saving lives every single day and helping us fight Covid-19 by breaking chains of transmission and spotting outbreaks wherever they exist."

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