Grant Shapps: Covid a 'heck of a lot worse' without Test & Trace

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps claims coronavirus would be a ‘heck of a lot worse’ without £22billion Test & Trace despite MPs saying it has made ‘NO clear impact’ on infections

  • Commons Public Accounts Committee said ‘no evidence’ scheme had worked
  • Defending scheme today, Mr Shapps described report as ‘really quite strange’ 
  • Claimed T&T ‘absolutely necessary’ and had ‘prevented virus spreading further’

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has claimed Britain’s Covid crisis would’ve been a ‘heck of a lot worse’ without the Government’s extortionate contact tracing scheme.

Mr Shapps attempted to defend the £22billion Test and Trace programme after a damning cross-party report found it had ‘no measurable effect’ on the epidemic.

The Commons Public Accounts Committee said there was no evidence the tracing scheme had made a dent in Covid transmission despite its ‘unimaginable’ budget. 

Last year the Government spent £22bn on Test and Trace, and in his budget last week the Chancellor promised to throw another £15bn at it in 2021, bringing the total cost to £37bn. The report said the Government was treating British taxpayers ‘like an ATM machine’.

Mr Shapps described the report as ‘really quite strange’, insisting Test and Trace was ‘absolutely necessary’ and had ‘prevented the disease spreading further’. 

He pointed out the programme had tracked down 9million potentially-infected Brits who may have otherwise spread the virus. 

But MPs on the PAC said there was little proof people who were contacted through the programme were actually complying with the isolation rules.  

Justifying the programme’s huge expenditure during a round of interviews this morning, Mr Shapps told Sky News: ‘It certainly hasn’t been cheap fighting coronavirus but it has absolutely been necessary.

‘This is a really quite strange report – 9.1million people have been contacted by Test and Trace. These are people who otherwise would be wandering around, often unaware that they had coronavirus, and spreading it around further.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has claimed Britain’s Covid crisis would have been a ‘heck of a lot worse’ without the Government’s expensive contact tracing scheme

Pictured: Graphs showing the number of coronavirus infections per day in the UK (top) and number of coronavirus-related deaths in the UK (bottom)

‘Whatever the coronavirus experience we’ve had as a nation, good or bad, it would have been one heck of a lot worse if we didn’t have a Test and Trace system which has contacted so many people and prevented the disease spreading further.’

The report noted that, when the scheme launched in May last year, ministers had justified the vast expenditure – which was likened to the annual budget for the Department of Transport – on preventing a second national lockdown.

But the group of cross-party MPs highlighted the country was only just starting to emerge from the third extended period of draconian measures, questioning the programme’s effectiveness and value for money.

The report also urged the scheme to ‘wean itself off’ reliance on thousands of consultants and temporary staff, with the highest being paid a rate of £6,624 per day.

Test and Trace figures show that around 20 per cent of Covid-infected people in England don’t give away any details for anyone they have come into contact with. This may be because they never spent time with anyone, or didn’t want to give away contact details

Separate Test and Trace figures show 90 per cent of potentially-infected contacts of Covid patients in England are tracked down and told to self-isolate 

Up to 55,000 Covid-positive people in England never got their test result through contact tracing scheme

Almost 55,000 Covid-infected people in England have not received their positive test results since the start of the second wave because they have not filled in all the paperwork or gave incorrect details, official data has revealed.

NHS Test and Trace figures showed 54,551 coronavirus-positive patients have not provided any communication details such as email addresses and mobile numbers since the £22billion scheme launched at the end of May.

Labour said the problem — which first emerged in May — should have been fixed months ago, and the Liberal Democrats said the data proved there were ‘too many holes’ in the contact-tracing scheme.

Dr Gabriel Scally, a public health expert and member of Independent Sage, said the figures were ‘extremely disappointing’ but ‘in keeping with what we know about the poor performance of Test and Trace’.

The failure means tens of thousands of infected people have been allowed to carry on with their day-to-day lives, potentially spreading the virus further.

The cases may be related to home-testing kits, which patients must spend 10 to 15 minutes registering online with their contact details before posting. 

‘Anyone who does not register will not receive their test results,’ the Department of Health says in its instructions for using the kits.

It is also possible to sign up for Covid tests at walk-in and drive-through centres using fake emails, phone numbers and addresses — but this leaves officials with contact details.

A tester working in the South East told MailOnline it was ‘practically impossible’ to get tests at the sites without handing over contact details.

‘They would literally need someone on the inside if they wanted to hand over fake details and then receive their results,’ they said. 

Department of Health bosses told MailOnline the figure included home testing kits as well as swabs taken in person where an incorrect email and mobile number were given. 

Officials did not explain how it is possible for someone to book a test without giving a mobile number or email address. 

Labour MP Meg Hillier, chairwoman of the committee, urged the Government to demonstrate the ‘staggering investment of taxpayers’ money’ had been spent wisely.

She said: ‘Despite the unimaginable resources thrown at this project Test and Trace cannot point to a measurable difference to the progress of the pandemic, and the promise on which this huge expense was justified – avoiding another lockdown – has been broken, twice.

‘DHSC and NHST&T must rapidly turn around these fortunes and begin to demonstrate the worth and value of this staggering investment of taxpayers’ money.

‘British taxpayers cannot be treated by Government like an ATM machine. We need to see a clear plan and costs better controlled.’

Between May 2020 and January 2021, daily UK testing capacity for Covid increased from about 100,000 to more than 800,000 tests, which the committee acknowledged was ‘striking’.

The service also contacted over 2.5million people testing positive for Covid in England and advised more than 4.5 million of their associated contacts to self-isolate.

But the percentage of total laboratory testing capacity used in November and December 2020 remained under 65 per cent. Even with the spare capacity, the service never met the target to turn around all tests in face-to-face settings in 24 hours, they found.

MPs noted the NHS programme publishes a significant amount of weekly data, including some that shows full compliance with the self-isolation rules relied upon by the scheme can be low.

But it criticised the failure to show the speed of the process from ‘cough to contact’ which stopped the public from being able to judge the overall effectiveness of the programme.

The report said: ‘There is still no clear evidence to judge NHST&T’s overall effectiveness. It is unclear whether its specific contribution to reducing infection levels, as opposed to the other measures introduced to tackle the pandemic has justified its costs.’

The MPs also criticised the scheme, led by Tory peer Dido Harding, for struggling to consistently match supply and demand for the service, which would often lead to ‘either sub-standard performance or surplus capacity’.

And they said it remained overly reliant on contractors and temporary staff after having to initially act quickly to scale up the service rapidly.

The report said the scheme admitted in February that it still employs around 2,500 consultants, at an estimated daily rate of around £1,100, with the most lucrative on £6,624.

‘It is concerning that the DHSC (Department of Health and Social Care) is still paying such amounts – which it considers to be “very competitive rates” to so many consultants,’ the report said.

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