Outsourcing giant Serco today announced it has been awarded a new contract with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to continue providing Covid test and trace services.
It comes just days after a National Audit Office (NAO) review into the largely privatised service found that 600m tests were unaccounted for and the £22bn scheme was still missing targets and ‘wracked with problems’.
Serco’s new contract with the government could be worth up to £322m, though the outsourcing company specified that “the actual amount could differ materially from this” as the service matches demand for testing in the coming months.
The contract will initially last for 12 months, with the possibility to extend for a further six months.
Serco will provide test site operations, test administration and cleaning and security services at around 20 per cent of testing sites in England and Northern Ireland, including a mixture of drive-through and walk-in testing centres, as well as mobile testing units.
Serco runs a quarter of the testing sites and half the “tier 3” contact tracers that phone the contacts of people who have tested positive.
“We are proud of the part we have played in building and operating the UK’s highly successful Covid-19 testing infrastructure,” said Rupert Soames, group chief executive of Serco.
“From a standing start in March 2020, NHS Test & Trace has grown a network of regional, local and mobile sites which have delivered over 18.5 million individual tests, an average of 51,000 tests a day,” Soames added.
The new contract is announced against the backdrop of the NAO review, published on Friday, that found that during a surge in cases in December, only 17 per cent of people received test results in 24 hours, against a target of 90 per cent.
Since the government launched an asymptomatic testing programme in October, 691m lateral flow test kits had been sent out in England but the results of only 14 per cent had been returned.
The NAO also said the test and trace system, which had underspent its budget by £8.7m, still had “low or variable” public compliance, with only a minority of symptomatic people requesting a test or self-isolating.