The 115-word passage that sums up how Boris Johnson's government wasted £37bn during the pandemic

A 115-word passage in a damning report of the government's handling of the Covid pandemic has laid bare the failure of the £37bn test and trace scheme.

The passage was part of a report by MPs that concluded the UK’s preparation for a pandemic was far too focused on flu, ministers waited too long to push through lockdown measures and wasted money as well as other key resources.

The wide-ranging report was intensely critical of many aspects of the government's handling of the pandemic, but also praised some actions taken by officials especially the vaccine rollout.

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It singled out NHS Test and Trace for being a huge waste of money that was flawed from the start and failed in its objectives.

The most damaging passage said: 

Despite being one of the first countries in the world to develop a test for Covid in January 2020, the United Kingdom failed to translate that scientific leadership into operational success in establishing an effective test and trace system during the first year of the pandemic. The slow, uncertain, and often chaotic performance of the test, trace and isolate system severely hampered the UK’s response to the pandemic. This was partly because NHS Test and Trace was only established when daily infections had risen to 2,000. The result was that the Test and Trace operation ultimately failed in its stated objective to prevent future lockdowns despite vast quantities of taxpayers’ money being directed to it.

NHS Test and Trace began operating in May 2020, after the government initially abandoned tracing methods in March when infections were out of control - despite intense criticism from the scientific community.

Despite its name, it was not part of the NHS and it was effectively run by the private company Serco and was led by Conservative Peer Dido Harding.

Baroness Dido Harding, Executive Chair of NHS Test and Trace, in Westminster, London, on her way to give evidence before the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee and Science and Technology Committee.
Baroness Dido Harding, former Executive Chair of NHS Test and Trace. (PA)

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It was often criticised for failing to meet its targets and was lambasted as a waste of money while other nations had quickly set up publicly run test and trace systems.

The report accused leaders of not caring about what was being achieved by East Asian countries in the very early stages of the pandemic which managed to set up a test and trace system before infections were out of control.

They said this was an "inexcusable oversight."

The report also said the decision to abandon community testing early on in the pandemic "cost many lives."

Samples are taken at a coronavirus testing facility in Temple Green Park and Ride, Leeds, as NHS Test and Trace - seen as key to easing the lockdown restrictions - is rolled out across England.
NHS Test and Trace did not live up to its expectations, the report found. (PA)

The authors regularly refer to how late the operation was set up and how the need for it to get quick immediate results crippling it from the start.

This led to it being highly centralised at first and often failed to accept support when offered from external organisations, most notably university laboratories. 

They also pointed out because of this highly centralised nature they failed to utilise the expertise of regional Public Health Directors, despite showing local test and trace efforts to be highly effective.

"Vast sums of taxpayers’ money were directed to Test and Trace, justified by the benefits of avoiding further lockdowns. But ultimately those lockdowns happened," the report added.

They also pointed out because NHS Test and Trace was not run by the health service it often hired specialists from the private sector, meaning the institutional learning from the key period of the pandemic was lost.

NHS Test and Trace also consistently failed to reach the 72- hour turnaround time as identified as necessary by the government, including a significant failure in September 2020.

The authors concluded NHS Test and Trace fell short of its expectations, it failed its own objective of avoiding another lockdown.

They said only recently has the UK managed to create a fully-fledged contact tracing system - when most of the nation is vaccinated.