Test and Trace Still Spending Over £1 Million a Day on Consultants

England’s Test and Trace scheme is continuing to fork out over £1 million a day on consultants, despite being labelled an “eye-watering” waste of taxpayer money that failed to fulfil its original purpose of cutting Covid transmission by MPs. By the end of last month, the scheme employed 1,230 consultants complete with an average contractor rate of £1,100 per day, with new contracts also being handed to private consultancy firms, further inflating the cost of the project. The Guardian has the story.

Dr. Jenny Harries, the Chief Executive of the U.K. Health Security Agency (UKHSA), who is responsible for NHS test and trace, told MPs in July there was a “very detailed ramp-down plan” to cut the number of consultants.

But latest figures show that at the end of October it employed 1,230 consultants. Test and trace has average daily contractor rates of £1,100, potentially equating to £1,353,000 a day. The ratio of consultants to civil servants in NHS test and trace in September was 1:1, separate data shows, despite a target set a year ago to reduce the ratio to 60%.

At the same time, new contracts worth millions of pounds are still being awarded to private consultancy firms, the Guardian has found, despite repeated pledges to curb their use.

The test-and-trace system, which has a £37 billion two-year budget that is equivalent to almost a fifth of the annual NHS England budget, is designed to identify Covid cases and limit their spread. U.K. daily reported Covid cases exceeded 50,000 last month and remain at about 40,000 a day.

In November 2020, Test and Trace promised to cut the number of consultants it employed. At that time, they accounted for 51% of staff, a figure deemed acceptable by some because the system was in its infancy. A year on, the proportion has fallen but official figures show consultants still made up more than a third (34%) of the workforce in September.

The data was published by the UKHSA and the Department of Health and Social Care in response to questions from the Guardian and a series of parliamentary written questions from the shadow Health Secretary, Jonathan Ashworth.

“There is no justification for continuing with these highly paid expensive consultants,” Ashworth said. “Ministers should ensure every penny piece of taxpayers’ money is spent wisely on patient care – not blown on expensive management consultants.”

Separate research by the Guardian reveals that in the last month the Government has quietly published details of at least seven new NHS test-and-trace deals with private contractors, together worth more than £17 million. One runs until at least September 2023.

The revelations come after a report by MPs concluded that test and trace had “not achieved its main objective” to enable people to return to a more normal way of life. The public accounts committee said the system’s “continued over-reliance on consultants is likely to cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of pounds”. Meg Hillier, the Chair of the Committee, said she was concerned the organisation was treating taxpayers like an ATM machine.

Some of the private consultants have been paid rates of more than £6,000 a day.

Worth reading in full.

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