Thank you to everyone who has contacted me about the provision of the Test and Trace system in England.
My Labour colleagues and I totally share your concerns that the current system is fragmented, ineffective and not fit for purpose. Concerns have repeatedly been raised about the speed at which test results have been returned, the number of contacts of positive cases being reached, and the extent to which data about confirmed cases is shared with local authorities and local public health teams.
The outsourcing of the Test and Trace operation to private firms has been widely criticised by experts, including the British Medical Association, which maintains that an over-reliance on firms such as Serco, Deloitte and Capita has hampered our ability to respond to the virus.
I believe it was a mistake not to put local public health experts at the heart of this operation. Local public health teams – alongside other key local government staff such as environmental health officers, who know their local areas – have years of experience in contact tracing and case finding. I support calls for a publicly run and administered test, trace and isolate regime that is backed by resources, led by Directors of Public Health and supported by primary care and NHS labs.
The Government has promised a “world-beating” contact tracing system. However, the target of reaching 80% of contacts has repeatedly been missed and tens of thousands of potentially infectious people have been missed by contact tracers.
While I recognise that the COVID-19 pandemic has been a significant challenge for the Government, I remain concerned that the current fragmented system is failing to operate effectively. On current evidence, it is my view that no additional funding should be awarded to private firms to run these services.
Ministers must urgently consider whether the system is fit for purpose in order to prevent the consequences of a rise in infections in autumn and winter and contain local outbreaks. I have long argued that local public health teams and the NHS would be more effective at contact tracing. My Labour colleagues and I will continue to make the case that Test and Trace should be led by local areas and backed by the resources and national support to make this happen.