The Test and Trace system is forking out almost £1million a day to just one consultancy firm, it has emerged.
The Government is paying an average of £1,000 a day to each consultant working on the programme. Deloitte has 900 employees working for the service.
David Williams, joint permanent secretary of the Department of Health and Social Care, revealed the shocking figures during a Commons public accounts committee meeting yesterday.
Asked about government reliance on private sector staff – and specifically how many Deloitte employees work for Test and Trace – he said it was down to roughly 900 from more than 1,000 in October.
‘We’re going to see that number reduced markedly over the course of the next few months,’ he said.
Pushed on the cost of individual consultants, Mr Williams said: ‘The average cost across our consultancy support, and I imagine it’s about the same for Deloitte, is around £1,000 a day.’
Baroness Dido Harding (pictured) said the programme was having a ‘material impact’ and is lowering the R number by between 0.3 and 0.6 and, in high Covid prevalence areas, by between 0.5 and 0.8
The Government is paying an average of £1,000 a day to each consultant working on the programme. Deloitte has 900 employees working for the service. Pictured: Health Secretary Matt Hancock
David Williams said the Test and Trace (pictured) system could not have expanded quickly without consultants’ help, and many firms had reduced their normal public sector rates during the crisis.
David Williams, joint permanent secretary of the Department of Health and Social Care, revealed the shocking figures during a Commons public accounts committee meeting
Matt Hancock says vaccination drive is ‘a full seven-day’ service despite apparent drop in numbers at weekends
Matt Hancock has insisted the UK’s ambitious vaccination drive is a ‘full seven-day service’ – despite an apparent drop in the number of people receiving jabs at the weekend.
This week’s figures showed a total of 321,951 people received a dose of the Oxford or Pfizer vaccine on Thursday – followed by a further 328,260 on Friday.
The figures – which include both first and second doses – then drop to 280,390 on Saturday, followed by another dip to 227,972 on Sunday.
Public Health England today blamed the lower weekend figures on reporting delays, as the Health Secretary insisted the roll-out was a ‘full seven-day service’ with the Government ‘prepared to go 24/7’.
When asked about the drop in figures at today’s daily Downing Street press briefing, Mr Hancock urged Britons to look at weekly averages rather than data from an individual day.
He said: ‘The vaccine delivery is absolutely delivering a full seven-day service and we are prepared to go 24/7.
‘I wouldn’t read too much into an individual day’s data, I think the best thing to do is look at weekly averages and, as you say, you can see that going up, and up fast.’
Mr Hancock said vaccine supply was the ‘rate-limiting factor’.
‘If you listen to voices on the ground in the NHS, you hear people saying ‘give us more supply and we will jab it into more arms’,’ he added.
‘We are shoveling it out as fast as we can.’
Pressure is mounting on the Government to dish out coronavirus vaccines 24/7, with Labour saying No10 ‘must deliver for the British people’ because the public ‘have sacrificed so much’.
But ministers earlier claimed there was ‘no clamour’ for appointments beyond 8pm.
And it was yesterday revealed that management consultants paid for by the Government to speed up the vaccine roll-out have told ministers there is little demand for vaccinations to be administered 24/7.
They claim getting pensioners to vaccination centres in the middle of the night is not ‘physically feasible’ and the constraint on the current programme is not the lack of hours in the day but making sure there is enough skilled staff.
He defended the amount, saying he was ‘confident’ firms were not profiteering from the pandemic.
He said the system could not have expanded quickly without consultants’ help, and many firms had reduced their normal public sector rates during the crisis.
He refused to ‘get into the specific detail of individual contracts’ when asked about reports some consultants were earning up to £7,000 a day.
But the Daily Mail can reveal that almost 3,000 consultants and contractors, many on gold-plated deals worth thousands of pounds a day, have been hired at a cost of at least £375million.
Baroness Dido Harding, chairman of the programme, defended the ‘appropriate’ use of the private sector in ‘extreme emergency circumstances’.
‘They’ve done very important work alongside the public servants, the military, the healthcare professionals and members of the private sector who have come and joined us as well,’ she told the committee.
‘We couldn’t have built the service without all of that combined expertise.’
She said 7.5million people were tested in the first fortnight of 2021 and that in the last week of published data, the first week of January, contact tracers successfully reached a million people.
She said: ‘That translates to 198 people a minute successfully contact-traced during every minute of the working day, seven days a week.’
Baroness Harding said the programme was having a ‘material impact’ and is lowering the R number by between 0.3 and 0.6 and, in high Covid prevalence areas, by between 0.5 and 0.8.
Figures obtained by this newspaper reveal there are 2,959 consultants and contractors working for the Test and Trace system.
The £375million wage bill, which vastly exceeds previous estimates, is equivalent to £163,000 per consultant, even though many are engaged for only short periods.
And analysis by the Mail shows how the system struggled as cases surged before Christmas, leaving thousands waiting longer than the 24 hours for test results pledged by Boris Johnson.
In the week ending December 23, only 17.5 per cent of people received a result within a day.
More than 12 per cent of the one million who took in-person tests that week waited more than 72 hours for a result.
Although the number receiving results within a day has crept up over the past three weeks, the rates are still far below official targets.
Government sources said the dip in turnaround times over Christmas was due to ‘unprecedented demand’ but that additional staff and resources were now being used.
It comes amid claims contact tracers are expected to carry out clinical work without qualifications.
A former businessman said he was hired as a tracer via Adecco for Serco in May.
He said: ‘I’ve been faced with situations I’m just not qualified to cope with. I’ve had somebody who is suicidal, somebody who has cancer… people asking when to call an ambulance if their breathing gets bad. I can’t field those questions.’
The £375million wage bill, which vastly exceeds previous estimates, is equivalent to £163,000 per consultant, even though many are engaged for only short periods. Pictured: Deloitte is said to have 900 consultants working for Test and Trace
A former businessman said he was hired as a tracer via Adecco for Serco (pictured: Library image) in May
When he asked for help from management, he claims he received conflicting advice. The tracer, who quit earlier this month, said: ‘It was the blind leading the blind.’
He added that it took Serco 16 days to reset his password – meaning he was paid for more than two weeks to do nothing.
A health department spokesman said: ‘As part of an unprecedented response to this global pandemic, we have drawn on the expertise and resources of a number of public and private sector partners.
This is in line with procurement regulations for exceptional circumstances. All call handlers have received appropriate training for their role and are fully supported in their vital work.’
A Serco spokesman said: ‘All our call handlers receive the appropriate training and support for the work that they are undertaking.’
Dido Harding says UK coronavirus testing system is in one of the ‘leading positions worldwide’ to track new Covid variants – and admits she fears the pandemic will still ‘certainly’ throw up unpredicted problems in the future
By Sam Blanchard, Deputy Health Editor for MailOnline
Dido Harding today said the UK is in one of the ‘leading positions worldwide’ to recognise and deal with new variants of the coronavirus.
And the NHS Test and Trace boss admitted to MPs that her biggest fear about Covid-19 is ‘what we don’t know’, saying she was certain it would present new, unknown problems in the future.
Lady Harding was speaking to Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee today to discuss the inner workings of Test & Trace.
The system, which now claims to be capable of doing more than 800,000 coronavirus swab tests every day, is one of the most comprehensive in the world, Lady Harding said.
She explained that the way swabs are processed and shared with scientists means the UK has one of the best systems for tracking mutations in the virus.
The Conservative peer insisted that Test and Trace is having a ‘material impact’ on the coronavirus outbreak and could be bringing down the R rate by as much as 0.6.
She claimed the testing system had led to ‘substantially fewer’ care home outbreaks in the second wave than in the first.
But the finances behind the programme remain monstrous – David Williams, the Department of Health’s finance director, revealed that NHS Test & Trace spent £1.3billion in November and December alone and it still has 900 consultants from Deloitte alone on its pay roll, with external advisers making an average £1,000 a day.
Despite concerns about the accuracy and usefulness of lateral flow coronavirus tests, Lady Harding said the Government had ‘hundreds of millions’ stockpiled, with Mr Williams adding that Britain has already bought 623million of them.
Lady Harding was speaking to Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee today to discuss the inner workings of Test & Trace
David Williams, the Department of Health’s finance director, revealed that NHS Test & Trace spent £1.3billion in November and December alone and it still has 900 consultants from Deloitte alone on its pay roll, with external advisers making an average £1,000 a day
The ability to spot and track new variants of the coronavirus as it mutates has become a hot topic in recent weeks with the emergence of more infectious strains found in Kent, South Africa and Brazil.
But the UK analyses the genetics of around 10,000 positive swab test results every week to track how the virus is changing.
It is one of the most active countries in the world at doing this, and shares its findings with a global project tracking the virus.
Lady Harding said today: ‘As we stand today our laboratories are well able to identify new variants and, as a country, we do more than half of all genomic sequencing in the world.
‘I think we can confidently say that we’re in one of the leading positions worldwide to cope with mutations. That doesn’t mean that it’s perfect but we are very well placed.’
Since the Kent variant emerged it has become the most dominant form of the virus in England, making up an estimated two thirds of all infections.
The South African variant is only confirmed to have been found twice and the most concerning variant from Brazil has not yet been detected in Britain.
UK MUST KEEP COVID UNDER CONTROL OR RISK THE VIRUS MUTATING AGAIN
Britain must keep Covid under wraps during the vaccine roll-out or it risks allowing the virus to mutate and render the jabs useless, an expert has warned.
Dr Christina Pagel, a health and mathematics researcher based at University College London, said allowing the virus to continue to spreading could give the coronavirus more time to mutate in a way that would make vaccines stop working.
The UK is already on high alert for mutations and today closed its borders to anyone who has not tested negative within 72 hours of travelling, to stop evolved variants coming in.
But there is still a risk that people will slip through the checks and that outbreaks will start again inside the country in the spring – vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi has suggested lockdown rules could start to be lifted as soon as March.
If the virus can keep circulating it will keep mutating and, the longer this goes on for, the more likely it is that a devastating mutation will emerge. Scientists fear the virus could learn to evade vaccines and natural immunity over time.
Britain’s second wave was driven by a highly infectious variant that first emerged in Kent.
Laboratory researchers have also spotted dozens of cases of a South African variant across the UK and last week confirmed 11 samples had tested positive for one of two Brazilian variants.
England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty has already admitted that the UK’s current strategy of half-vaccinating people raises the risk of the virus mutating to become vaccine-resistant.
Dr Pagel claimed a combination of rapid vaccination and stringent ‘suppression’ of outbreaks should continue until the majority of people have been immunised.
The NHS’s vaccine programme has made impressive progress so far, with more than half of over-80s inoculated already and a total of 3,857,266 given jabs by Saturday.
When asked what keeps her awake at night, Lady Harding said: ‘It’s so tempting to believe that we can somehow force Covid-19 to behave in a way that we have pre-determined, and yet actually this is still a very new disease and our brilliant scientists and clinicians are still continuing to learn about it.
‘What keeps me awake at night is what we don’t yet know about the path of Covid-19.
‘So continuing to build this collaborative, agile partnership across all of the public sector and private sector to fight Covid is the only way forward, I think, because I’m certain the disease is going to throw some stuff at us that we’ve not been able to anticipate.’
On the partnership between public and private services, Lady Harding defended the organisation’s decision to pay exorbitant fees to management consultants.
The Department of Health’s Mr Williams had admitted that consultants were earning an average £1,000 a day when working for the Test & Trace programme, although refused to confirm the maximum day rate when asked whether it was £7,000.
Lady Harding said: ‘I think it is appropriate to build a service in extreme emergency circumstances using short-term contingent labour and consultants for some of those roles.
‘I think they’ve done very important work alongside the public servants, the military, the healthcare professionals and members of the private sector who have come and joined us as well.
‘We couldn’t have built the service without all of that combined expertise.’
The service, which started last spring, has a controversially large £22billion budget.
Pressed on whether he was confident that there had been no private sector profiteering from the Test and Trace budget, Mr Williams said: ‘Yes, as confident as I can be based on the information that I’ve seen and based on the regular reporting that comes up through the Test and Trace commercial and finance staff.’
Baroness Harding told MPs on Monday that close to 1,000 people per minute were tested on Sunday, January 17, and that more than 7.5million people had been successfully contact-traced since the start of the new year.
Asked about the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) suggesting in September that the testing programme was having a ‘marginal’ impact on transmission, she replied: ‘There is no doubt that as we have built and scaled the service, we have learnt more and more and we are now hitting all of the operational contact tracing targets that Sage set us.
‘We are reaching more than 80 per cent of people who test positive, we are reaching more than 90 per cent of their contacts and the 92 per cent of all contacts we reached last week – three-quarters of a million people – 97 per cent of them we reached in less than 24 hours.
‘So, no, I don’t believe we are having a marginal impact, actually. As measured, we are having a material impact in the fight against Covid.’