Will Rishi Sunak re-evaluate funding for testing services and divert some money to the NHS?
When the devastating parliamentary report on the Covid pandemic was released today, there was silent pride in the NHS that its own performance was widely praised. Many of the best things about the state’s response to the virus, from introducing vaccines to new treatments to agile management, were thanks to the health service.
But there was also a sense of relief, as most of the criticism was directed not only at the government and scientific advisors but also at “NHS Test and Trace” (which should actually have been called “DHSC Test and Trace,” according to Matt Hancock’s department) of Health and Social Care directed it, not the NHS).
Some health care professionals who have long vexed that their brand is being used and abused by Dido Harding’s controversial entity noted today emphatically that she tried – and failed – to become executive director of the NHS herself this summer. Or as an insider put it: “We dodged a bullet.”
The cross party Coronavirus: Findings so far Report, produced after months of evidence sessions before the Commons Health and Social Care and Science and Technology Committees, was certainly far reaching.
Among the most damning judgments was the ministers ‘and their advisors’ “slow and fatalistic” approach to the first wave of the virus which, combined with mistakes in nursing homes, resulted in “one of the most important public health failures the UK has ever seen” . .
However, the danger of such a large report (135 pages long) with so many recommendations (38) is that any major error is lost in the sum. When you dive into the study, it quickly becomes clear that Test and Trace has often been viewed as a basket case.
The report rightly addresses the discrepancy between Harding’s hype for Test and Trace and the reality of its ineffectiveness. The Treasury, the whopping $ 37 billion
At the same time, the SAGE documents concluded that the system had “a minor influence on the transmission” of the virus. The report highlights an evidence session in which Harding told MPs that Test and Trace would truncate the “R” number only to find that their testimony was based on an outdated statistical model.
Test and Trace failed on one of its most basic tasks, which was converting test results fast enough to alert people to the isolation. The report found that a 72-hour turnaround target was rarely met (even this summer).
A litany of other errors is also set out. The system failed to prepare for a surge in test demand when schools returned in fall 2020. Although the service had promised to “be local by default,” the service effectively marginalized the council’s public health teams who had the greatest success in isolating people (while paying millions). to the outsourcing companies Serco, Deloitte and Sitel). The fact that Test and Trace’s key senior executives were private contractors on six-month contracts meant the lessons learned could not be shared.
Harding has been gone a long time, but the fact that the woman now nominally in charge of Test and Trace is Jenny Harries isn’t thanks to her incorporation into the new UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) which she heads little ironic.
As Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Harries was a key figure in promoting “groupthink” that saw no need for large-scale testing and tracking. In March 2020, she said the WHO’s “testing, testing, testing” advice was “not an appropriate intervention” for a rich Western nation like the UK and more appropriate for “low and middle income countries”.
Although Harding was for a time referred to as “Dido Hiding” because of her absence from public scrutiny, she occasionally submitted to questioning. Since they left, Test and Trace has still been eating taxpayers’ money, but with little publicity.
MEPs say the new UKHSA is “opaque” and has little information about its leadership, management or strategy. As the joint chair of the Science and Technology Committee, Greg Clark told me, “You are not learning lessons here, you are going in the opposite direction. We have a fog where there should be clarity. “
And not only Harry now has questions to answer. Ministers, including the Chancellor, must declare their past and ongoing opposition to more generous self-isolation payments for workers who fear being left out of their own pockets.
MEPs’ report concludes that it is wasteful to spend billions identifying potential virus carriers “if they are not supported to comply with an isolation requirement” and “therefore this remains a major weakness of our national pandemic response”.
Given that all eyes will be on the spending review and possible cuts to unprotected budgets later this month, it is worth recalling the sheer cost of Test and Trace. His allocated £ 37 billion is more than the annual budgets of entire government departments such as the Home Office (17.7 billion in 2021/22).
Rishi Sunak may want to ponder the report’s other key finding that the NHS entered the pandemic at one of the lowest rates in Europe in terms of the number of beds per person and the number of doctors, nurses and midwives per person.
In addition, although the upcoming hike in national insurance will help with funding through 2023, several experts believe the NHS will need even more money to cope with aging and other stresses. Every penny saved by Test and Trace would be better spent on healthcare, many will argue.
Due to a lack of investment, the buildings lacked space and ventilation so that family members or partners could accompany their loved ones during birth or death. The tradition of the NHS “running hot” in winter, very close to its maximum capacity, needs to be replaced with a more resilient system, MPs warned.
In his own evidence for the investigation, former NHS chief Sir Simon Stevens said one of the major lessons of the pandemic is building more resilience and spare capacity in public services rather than doing everything with optimal just-in-time efficiency to operate. “Resilience needs buffers, and buffers can look wasteful – until the moment it’s no longer.” Let’s see if the Treasury listens.