The government largely wasted a mammoth £37 billion on a test and trace programme that failed to control the spread of Covid-19 last year, a report by lawmakers said on Wednesday (October 27).
The government and its inexperienced head for the programme, Dido Harding, displayed “gung-ho confidence”, the chair of the House of Commons public accounts committee said.
“But in the end it massively over-promised for what it delivered and it was eye-watering sums of money,” Meg Hillier, of the opposition Labour party, told BBC radio.
“That is one of the biggest concerns — it is almost as if the taxpayer was an ATM machine. That lack of regard for taxpayer funding is a real concern for us as a committee,” she said.
When the pandemic erupted early last year, Britain tried to build from scratch a mass programme to test for new cases and trace infected people.
But its caseload soon exploded and the country now has the second-highest death toll in Europe, behind Russia.
The MPs’ report said Harding and the government had relied too much on expensive outside contractors instead of existing networks in the NHS.
Uptake of services offered by the programme was “variable” and “only a minority of people experiencing Covid-19 symptoms get a test”, the report said.
Overall, it concluded, the scheme “has not achieved its main objective to help break chains of Covid-19 transmission and enable people to return towards a more normal way of life”.
The government defended the testing programme, insisting that more people now receive tests than in any other European country.
Jenny Harries, head of the UK Health Security Agency, said it was “saving lives every single day and helping us fight Covid-19 by breaking chains of transmission and spotting outbreaks wherever they exist”.