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Is the true scale of the wasted billions on NHS Test and Trace about to be laid bare?

Many people agree the Covid-19 test and trace system has been a complete shambles, especially given what it costs compared to the systems adapted by other countries. Do we understand the true scale of what has been spent, and how much more is likely to be spent in future?

Is the true scale of the wasted billions on NHS Test and Trace about to be laid bare?
Reno Charlton
· 3 min read

Since the outbreak of Covid-19 in the UK early last year, the government has spent billions of pounds on a wide range of initiatives. This includes everything from financial support, such as furlough, to purchasing vaccinations and PPE.

Another thing that money from the public purse has paid for is the creation and rollout of the NHS Test and Trace system, for which a two-year budget of £37 billion has been put aside by the government. However, there are concerns this astonishing sum could prove to be a total waste because the system's effectiveness is not apparent, according to a new report from MPs.

Preventing future lockdowns

One of the reasons behind the system's creation was to prevent future lockdowns following the initial one last March. However, the Public Accounts Committee report points out there have been another two lockdowns since then, so the system has not been effective in this respect.

The report also highlighted additional claims, including failing to meet targets to turn around face-to-face tests within 24 hours. Other concerns included being too reliant on consultants, some of whom were being paid thousands of pounds per day, and being unable to accommodate the surge in demand for tests last autumn when schools and colleges returned.

In addition, MPs pointed out that even when Covid cases were increasing, contact tracers were often left without any work to fill their time. They expressed concerns about the government throwing good money after bad without any tangible evidence that the system was making a difference.

The report went on to say the government was treating the taxpayer like an ATM and described the spending as 'unimaginable.’

Hitting back at the findings

Several senior government officials have hit back at the claims and findings in the Public Accounts Committee report.

Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, said that the report defied logic, adding that the system had helped to keep cases of Covid variants at a minimum. He said that despite the massive cost of Test and Trace, it was madness to think the country would have been better off without it. 

Head of the Test and Trace program, Baroness Dido Harding, also defended the system, stating it had been created from scratch and that performance had improved over time. She added the UK was now conducting more testing than any other comparable country.

However, Meg Hillier from the Public Accounts Committee said there was no clear evidence the system had made any significant difference given the enormous costs involved. She said, "The promise on which this huge expense was justified - avoiding another lockdown - has been broken, twice."

Costs will continue to soar

Other government and health officials have also commented on the report since it was released.

The Nuffield Trust’s Dr Billy Palmer said promises made concerning Test and Trace had not come to fruition. He said the nation had been promised a world-beating system, and this had failed to materialise. Palmer added that the government had already spent ' eye-watering' sums of money on the system, and costs would continue to soar.

Labour MP Rachel Reeves went as far as to say that the system had failed the British public, claiming the way the system had been set up and operated had been incompetent.

Reno Charlton
Reno Charlton
Reno Charlton has been writing since 2003. She has worked with a diverse client base around the world, across a variety of subjects and industry areas, specialising in lifestyle and health & wellbeing niches. In addition to her online work, Reno is also a published author and has written several children's books and short stories.