Campaigners yesterday called for £528 million of funding to be given to local authorities and Public Health England teams to fund a local test, track and trace programme, instead of to the private companies managing the national system. The call, issued by campaign group We Own It, and Keep Our NHS Public is requesting that the potential value of contracts held by Serco and Sitel - the companies currently managing the national test, track and trace programme - is instead given to local authorities in partnership with NHS and local and regional public health experts.
The government is yet to confirm whether it will be extending its contracts with private companies who currently manage the national system - including Serco and Sitel. Campaigners say these contracts must be ended when they are due to expire on 23 August and that local contact tracing should be carried out by local public health protection teams.
Keep Our NHS Public protests
A number of local Keep Our NHS Public groups took part including Leeds Keep Our NHS Public, Hackney Keep Our NHS Public, Keep Our NHS Public North East and Save Lewisham hospital campaign.
"Don't be fooled - the Tories are now beginning to overtly privatise our NHS. Public Health England is now being merged with the failed Serco/Sitel. £528 million of your money is being given to this company which couldn't even run track and trace properly in the first place"
Series of failures
Serco has faced heavy criticism for its handling of the system. Its record on reaching contacts in the same household stands at just 52%.
Contracts worth over £100m were given to Serco without any competitive tendering and they are about to get another £300. They employed 18,000 low paid and poorly trained staff to work nationally, with staff working on the track and trace scheme describing themselves sitting idle, without contact from their supervisors, with one claiming they worked for 38 hours without making a single phone call, instead spending the time watching Netflix. Now 6000 are being made redundant. Local authority public health expertise was ignored – yet local knowledge is the key to success in actually protecting people from infection.
While government advice is that 80% of contacts of those with coronavirus infection should isolate, Serco has managed to contact only 78% of patients and then only 72% of their close contacts with only 50% of people from people in the same household as a person infected being contacted.
Other scandals have occurred. In May, the company accidentally shared the contact details of 296 of its tracers, in what would comprise a breach of data protection regulations. It was revealed that Serco had been handed a £1 million fine for its management of accommodation for asylum seekers in Scotland just months before being granted the track and trace contract.