Wednesday 1 July 2020 11:31 am

Serco boss defends 'remarkable' coronavirus test and trace system

The boss of outsourcing giant Serco has issued a strident defence of the NHS’ coronavirus “test and trace” system, calling it a “huge achievement”.

Speaking to City AM’s City View podcast, Rupert Soames said that 114,000 people had agreed to isolate after being contacted within the first three weeks of the programme.

Read more: The City View: Rupert Soames, CEO of Serco, says private sector has ‘proven itself’ during crisis

The company has come under fire from critics for its role in running the £45.8m contract due to its track record in delivering public services.

Soames hit back at critics, saying that what the firm had achieved was “remarkable” and was “going to get better every day”.

“We recruited and brought online 10,500 people, most of them working from home in four weeks. Nobody’s ever done that”, he said.

“There are about 114,000 people who have been spoken to, and who have agreed to isolate themselves in three weeks. 

“My guess is that is probably over a million phone calls being made in a period of three weeks, standing up a service that’s never been done before”. 

He also highlighted the system’s importance to the UK’s response to the disease, pointing to recent outbreaks in Leicester and at a meat processing plant in Germany to show how important a proper tracing system is.

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Critics of the scheme have said that many of the 25,000 people recruited in total to man the new system have had very little to do, with the majority of the cases managed by existing public health professionals.

A BBC Panorama investigation found that 98,000 of the people contacted were approached by existing Public Health England workers.

Soames defended the spare capacity in the system, comparing the operation to an army.

“One of the criticisms at the moment is a lot of the people are actually not doing very much work, and that is actually really good news.

“But the idea of having an army is that you need to have it ready to deploy, which is rather like what we’ve got in the test and trace. 

Read more: England’s Test and Trace system misses one in four people with coronavirus

“We want a large amount of capacity waiting there, so that when we get a Leicester-type situation, we can react really quickly. 

“Most of the time, rather like army life it is long periods of boredom interspersed by short bursts of frantic activity”, he added.

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