Wednesday 3 February 2021 11:38 am

Test and Trace is failing to persuade 20,000 people to self-isolate each day, Dido Harding admits

Around 20,000 people each day who should be self-isolating are not being convinced to do so by the government’s NHS Test and Trace scheme, chief executive Baroness Dido Harding has admitted.

Facing a grilling from the Commons science and technology committee, Harding said that based on last week’s Test and Trace figures “circa 20,000 people a day” who have come into contact with coronavirus are not being successfully told to self-isolate by the contact tracing scheme each day.

Read more: Exclusive: Government scraps ‘game-changing’ antibody tests at NHS sites

“And that’s the proportion that we know about,” she added, suggesting that the figure could be much higher. 

Harding insisted there were various reasons people were not isolating, including “not understanding the rules,” lack of substantial sick pay and “mental health reasons”.

Jeremy Hunt, former health secretary and health and social care committee chair, slammed the figure as “a huge number of people every single day that could be passing on the virus. “[They] are not isolating in the way we need them to,” he added. “That amount of people is enough to restart the pandemic.”

The Test and Trace chief was quizzed over the “frequent changes” to the way the scheme counts Covid contacts, after Harding boasted the number of people successfully asked to self-isolated had “substantially increased since Christmas”.

City A.M. reported last week that Test and Trace has repeatedly tweaked its counting methodology to boost statistics. A major change in December that meant a single phone call to one member of a household would count all their co-habitants as “reached” via the Test and Trace scheme.

The Department for Health and Social Care admitted to City A.M. that the number of “contacts reached” also contained duplicate figures, although it refused to clarify how many.

Harding said the changes were “very much based on feedback” NHS Test and Trace had received from households. “We do believe it’s reliable in terms of what we’re seeing, and it’s something that we can continue to monitor,” she told MPs.

The Test and Trace scheme, which has so far cost the UK taxpayer more than £22bn, has faced mounting criticism for repeatedly failing to meet targets.

The £22bn figure dwarfs the £2.7bn that the government has so far allocated for coronavirus vaccines. 

Analysis by City A.M. last month showed Test and Trace failed to reach more than 30,000 people who tested positive for coronavirus in the week before Christmas, at the same time the government warned that a new coronavirus mutation was spreading across the country.

Harding earlier this month defended spending almost £1m a day on private consultants for the scheme, after it emerged Deloitte workers were being paid £1,000 for each day of work on the programme. 

Read more: Exclusive: Government scraps ‘game-changing’ antibody tests at NHS sites

During a grilling from the Public Accounts Committee, Harding told MPs she felt it was “appropriate” to bring in external help in “extreme emergency circumstances using short-term contingent labour and consultants for some of those roles”.

“I think they’ve done very important work alongside the public servants, the military, the healthcare professionals and members of the private sector who have come and joined us as well,” she added.