Sheffield NHS staff slam 'wasteful' Government after report finds 'no clear evidence' £22bn Test and Trace scheme worked

Frontline NHS staff in Sheffield have slammed the Government’s ‘wasteful’ use of billions of taxpayer money to pay for the Test and Trace scheme after a cross-party review found ‘no clear evidence’ that it contributed to a reduction in coronavirus infection levels.

Wednesday, 10th March 2021, 9:59 am

This comes amid protests nationwide over the ‘insulting’ one per cent pay rise to NHS staff – an amount the Government claims was ’as much as it could give’ while at the same time setting aside another £15 billion in 2021-2022 for the failed scheme, which is led by Tory peer Dido Harding.

Prior to the budget announcement, the scheme had already cost the taxpayer £22 billion for 2020-2021.

Sheffield Unison representative and practicing nurse Joan Pons Laplana said: “We are very angry that another £15 billion is being set aside for a scheme that is not fit for purpose.

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Covid-19 testing is carried out at an NHS Test and Trace facility (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

"Instead of giving that money to a failed system they could be giving it to the nurses and NHS staff on the frontline, whose fantastic work with the vaccine rollout has saved the skin of Boris Johnson.”

Meg Hillier, the chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) behind the critical report on Test and Trace, urged the Government to justify the “staggering investment of taxpayers’ money”.

The report said said the spending was "unimaginable" and warned the taxpayer could not be treated like an "ATM machine".

Baroness Dido Harding, Executive Chair of NHS Test and Trace, in Westminster, London. There is "no clear evidence" the £22 billion Test and Trace scheme contributed to a reduction coronavirus infection levels, a cross-party group of MPs have said. Photo credit should read: Aaron Chown/PA Wire

The MPs behind the report said ministers had justified the vast expenditure on preventing a second national lockdown, but noted England is currently living under its third in questioning the programme’s effectiveness.

They also urged the scheme led by Tory peer Dido Harding to “wean itself off” reliance on thousands of “expensive” consultants and temporary staff, with some receiving £6,624 per day.

The PAC said the programme publishes a significant amount of weekly data, including some that shows full compliance with the self-isolation rules relied upon by the scheme can be low.

But it criticised the data for failing to show the speed of the process from “cough to contact” and therefore not allowing the public to judge the “overall effectiveness of the programme”.

Joan Pons Laplana is a digital manager at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals but returned to frontline duties to help in the effort against COVID-19

The Government denied that the spending on test and Trace was wasteful, and Baroness Dido Harding insisted: "It is making a real impact in breaking the chains of transmission."

The MPs behind the report also criticised the scheme for struggling to consistently match supply and demand for the service, and therefore “resulting in either sub-standard performance or surplus capacity”.

And they said it remained “overly reliant” on contractors and temporary staff after having to initially act quickly to scale up the service rapidly.

The report said the scheme admitted in February that it still employs around 2,500 consultants, at an estimated daily rate of around £1,100, with the best paid consultancy staff on £6,624.

“It is concerning that the DHSC (Department of Health and Social Care) is still paying such amounts – which it considers to be ‘very competitive rates’ to so many consultants,” the report said.

Royal College of Nursing general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair said nurses “will be furious to hear of the millions of pounds being spent on private sector consultants”.