The expensive NHS flagship Covid-tracking app has failed to avert several lockdowns and has outreach problems, the UK Parliament’s spending committee has said after an inquiry.
The NHS Test and Trace (NHST&T) system and app were designed to identify close contacts of people who test positive for Covid-19. The app would then tell users to get tested themselves and self-isolate in case they were infected.
However, the app has failed to live up to expectations, the House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts wrote in its report published on Wednesday.
NHST&T’s overall goal is to help break the chains of Covid-19 transmission and enable people to return to a more normal way of life, but there have been two national lockdowns since October 2020 and at the time of our evidence session, cases were increasing again.
Although there were some improvements in the app’s performance since it was introduced last year, over 60% of people with Covid symptoms reported that they had not been tested, the committee said. It added that groups like older people, men, and some ethnic minorities are less likely to engage with the service.
“When under pressure, as it was over Christmas 2020 and more recently in April, performance deteriorates, with only 17% of people receiving tests within 24 hours in December 2020,” the spending watchdog said.
According to the report, the NHS Test and Trace was the government’s most expensive pandemic response health programme, having been allocated “an eye watering £37 billion ($50.8 billion) over two years, although it underspent by £8.7 billion ($11.9 billion) in its first year.” The programme’s cost was equal to nearly 20% of the 2020-2021 NHS England budget.
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Meg Hillier, the committee chair, said the national Test and Trace programme “set out bold ambitions but has failed to achieve them despite the vast sums thrown at it.”
On Tuesday, the UK reported its highest daily Covid death toll since March with 263 fatalities and nearly 41,000 new cases.
Despite the alarming numbers, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said last week there was “absolutely nothing to indicate” that the country will enter a new lockdown this winter. Likewise, Chancellor Rishi Sunak argued another lockdown is unlikely due to the continuing vaccination campaign and the introduction of booster shots.
Meanwhile, Peter Openshaw, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group, told BBC Breakfast last week that, given the rise in cases, he was “very fearful that we’re going to have another lockdown at Christmas if we don’t act soon.”
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