An NAO report has published information that says the NHS test and trace programme is still failing to reach enough contacts. Furthermore, 40% of tests are still taking longer than 24 hours to get the results back to those who have been tested.
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The programme, lauded as part of the route back to normality during the Covid-19 pandemic, has cost the government a massive £22 billion.
In October, the NAO released results showing only 14% of people receiving in-person tests were receiving their results within the targeted 24-hour period. This figure rose to 38% in the early part of November.
The report also uncovered a massive flaw in the way in which employed staff's utilisation time was implemented. In June, the utilisation rate was at 4% for health professionals and only 1% for call handling staff.
A reported £720 million spent was spent on call-handler contracts, but many staff said they had little to do.
Speaking to the Guardian, the shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, said the report had revealed many issues in the way in which the UK is handling the battle against Covid-19.
Ashworth said, "The £22bn test and trace now has a budget larger than policing and fire service combined, has seen multi million pound contracts handed to big private outsourcing firms rather than mobilise experienced public health expertise, and failed to trace sufficient numbers of contacts or ensure those who are contacted have decent financial support to isolate."
So far, there are 217 public and private organisations with contracts to supply the programme with equipment, services and infrastructure such as labs and staff. The test and trace programme has said there are further plans to bring on board 154 more organisations. Additional finances of £16.2bn, to be spent by March 2021, have been assigned to the programme.
According to NAO, the test and trace system was not prepared for the reopening of schools and universities in September. The labs responsible for processing samples from the tests did not have sufficient capacity to keep up with the 24-hour target turnaround time to get results back to people.
This meant that the NHS had to restrict the number of available tests, further damaging efforts to meet targets for tests done per day.
A spokesperson from the Department of Health and Social Care said turnaround times were improving and the rate of people contacted has increased to 85.7%. The spokesperson went on to tell the Guardian, "As the Covid-19 vaccination programme is rolled out, we are determined to ensure that NHS test and trace plays an even more effective role in stopping the spread of the virus."