The Government’s £12billion test and trace programme has just had its worst week ever.
The performance of the NHS Test and Trace system continues to slide, with just one in seven people having a test at a centre getting their result back in 24 hours.
Tests returning a false positive result have also risen – while the proportion of people being reached after coming into contact with an infected person has fallen to the lowest ever level.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants up to 10 million rapid tests handed to workers each day – which could cover the whole population in a week. Dubbed Project Moonshot, leaked documents claim this would cost £100bn – almost as much as NHS spending in a year – reported The Mirror.
The Government has already allocated £12bn to its COVID-19 test, trace and isolate programme this year – but the private companies being paid millions of pounds to help run the system “aren’t up to the job”, a Labour MP has said.
Outsourcing giant Serco, one of the companies involved in the scheme, has said it expects its profits to exceed expectations in 2020 as a result of the uptick in work since the global pandemic.
However, the new weekly data from the programme shows only 15.1% of people who were tested for Covid-19 in England in the week ending October 14 at a regional site, local site or mobile testing unit – a so-called in-person test – received their result within 24 hours.
This is down from 32.8% in the previous week – and is the lowest weekly percentage since Test and Trace began.
The figures also show a drop to 59.6% in the proportion of close contacts of people who tested positive who were reached.
This is the lowest weekly percentage since Test and Trace began and is down from 63% in the previous week.
By comparison, the locally run scheme is Wales is reaching 89 per cent of people at present, and 94 per cent in total. However, Wales has nonetheless been placed into a Fire Break or Circuit Breaker short national lockdown.
In England, for cases handled by local health protection teams, 94.8% of contacts were reached and asked to self-isolate in the week to October 14. But for cases handled either online or by call centres, this figure was 57.6%.
The data also shows the positivity rate – the proportion of all tests returning a positive result – has climbed to 7.1% for the week, the highest since Test and Trace began.
According to criteria published by the World Health Organisation, a positivity rate of less than 5% is one indicator that the epidemic is under control in a country.
A total of 101,494 people tested positive for Covid-19 in England at least once in the week to October 14 – a rise of 12% in positive cases on the previous week.
The latest data shows that of 96,521 people transferred to the system, 80.7% were reached and asked to provide details of recent close contacts.
This is up slightly on 79.9% in the previous week.
Labour’s Justin Madders said it was time for ministers to admit that the private companies being paid millions of pounds to help run the system “aren’t up to the job”.
Shadow health minister Mr Madders said: “To have over 40 per cent of people not even being contacted by the test and trace system is an interstellar sized black hole in the Government’s plan to reduce transmission.
“How much longer are we expected to put up with this dangerous failure before ministers admit that the likes of Serco just aren’t up to the job?
“The need for a circuit break is absolutely critical now and that time should be used to fix test and trace once and for all.”
Health minister Lord Bethell said: “We’re rightfully proud of our achievements, as we continue to test more per head that any other European country.
“However, we do know that more needs to be done; to this end, we’re constantly looking for new ways to improve the service, scoping out new technologies, partnerships and ways of working to equip us to better support our people, locally and nationally.”
Interim executive chair of the National Institute for Health Protection, Baroness Dido Harding, said: “Reducing turnaround times is our absolute priority to make sure we are reaching people as soon as possible.
“We always need to balance ensuring as many people as possible can get a test alongside ensuring test results are delivered as quickly as possible, and as capacity continues to grow at pace, we expect to see improvements.
“Partnerships across the public, private and educational sectors, alongside rapid advancements in technology and our ongoing recruitment drive, are helping us ensure that we meet our target of 500,000 a day by the end of October.
“Nearly 30,000 testing capacity has been added in the last week, which will result in faster turnaround times going forward.
“Strengthening our partnerships with local public health teams, meanwhile, will further improve the speed with which we are able to trace and contact people in their communities.”
Outsourcing giant Serco has said it expects profits to exceed expectations in 2020 as a result of the uptick in work since the global pandemic.
Updating the London Stock Exchange in an unexpected announcement, the company said the excess profits could now be returned to shareholders, with a consultation on dividend payments under way.
The company, which is one of the largest companies involved the UK Government’s Test and Trace scheme, said it had achieved strong revenue growth in the three months from July, highlighting extensions to contracts to provide test sites and call handlers.
Bosses said this was “an indication of our customer’s satisfaction with the quality of work we have delivered” as part of the £12 billion committed by the Government to the system.
The company added: “We have also seen increases in the number of asylum seekers we are looking after on behalf of the Home Office, and our new Prisoner Escorting contract has been successfully mobilised.
“We have now secured an extension to the Emergency Measures Agreement on the Caledonian Sleepers to the end of the year.”
It expects a trading profit, before any one-off costs, of between £160 million and £165 million, compared with previous estimates of £135 million to £150 million. Full-year revenue is expected to be around £3.9 billion – up from £3.7 billion previously predicted.