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NHS test and trace ‘failed its main objective’: Spending watchdog

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
In this file photo taken on April 1, 2020 a medical professional in PPE, including gloves, an apron and a face mask as a precautionary measure against Covid-19, pushes a patient, also wearing a facemask, as he lays on a bed, inside St Thomas' Hospital in north London. (AFP photo)

The British government’s flagship test-and-trace system has failed to cut infection levels in spite of receiving an “eye-watering” £37bn in taxpayers’ cash, a highly-critical report from MPs has said.

The program “has not achieved its main objective to help break chains of Covid-19 transmission and enable people to return towards a more normal way of life,” despite receiving nearly 20% of the NHS’s entire annual budget over two years, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said in its damning report.

Dame Meg Hillier, chair of the committee, said, "The national Test and Trace program 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.”

The program was set up at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic to test the public and trace the contacts of positive coronavirus cases. At the time of its launch, Prime Minister Boris Johnson claimed the program would be “world-beating”.

However, the 26-page report found that, since the end of October 2020, “the country has had two more national lockdowns and case numbers have risen dramatically.”

The MPs argue that the program's "continued over-reliance on consultants is likely to cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of pounds".

The program’s performance has been criticized in the past too, including by the PAC.

In an initial report in March, the MPs said despite having access to "unimaginable resources", Test and Trace could not produce "clear evidence" it had reduced the spread of Covid.

The timing of the latest report’s conclusions is extremely embarrassing for Johnson’s government as it still resists introducing measures to curb the rise in Covid cases.

NHS test and trace is a major pillar of its “plan A” approach to fall and winter, which ministers say is enough to avoid a crisis.

Last week, the British Medical Association (BMA) accused the government of being “willfully negligent”, as ministers refuse to take any mitigation measures.

Rates of hospitalizations and deaths in the UK have failed to substantially decline since the summer, when the country lifted almost all of its remaining restriction. In Western Europe, the UK ranks the worst regarding the number of the infected cases.

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