Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/1098/31217
Tory track and trace failure
An NHS contact tracer
After wasting months, with Covid cases rising in more areas, the government has been forced to partly retreat from its failing centralised and privately run Track and Trace scheme in England. It will now be more "locally targeted".
The Tories were determined to use the pandemic to push their privatisation goals. Leaked emails show outsourcing company Serco was approached in January to provide a contact-tracing service, later being awarded an initial £108 million contract.
Serco's Chief Executive is Rupert Soames, Winston Churchill's grandson - an old-Etonian and Bullingdon Club member like Boris Johnson and David Cameron.
Soames wrote that, if successful, Serco's contact tracing "will go a long way in cementing the position of the private sector companies in the public sector supply chain."
It has been disastrously unsuccessful! National call centres run by Serco and US-owned Sitel reached only 56% of contacts of Covid cases in the first week of August.
At least 80% must isolate to control virus spread. Call centre staff have been sitting for hours, with no cases to follow up.
I'm an NHS contact tracer, and I'm meant to follow up more complex cases, and those the Serco/Sitel call centres failed to reach.
But it's the same remote telephone-based system. I've also had very few calls in ten weeks (and very few shifts available to book on a zero-hour contract). Calls from the 0300 number often go unanswered or go to voicemail.
Asking someone with a positive test who they have been in contact with is just part of what is needed. Their contacts must be followed up and asked to isolate for fourteen days.
A gaping hole in the government's scheme is the lack of support for cases and contacts. Full pay with jobs held open must be guaranteed.
Otherwise workers on zero-hour contracts or fearing redundancy will feel they can't afford isolation.
Those testing positive will be reluctant to isolate themselves or give contact details for fellow workers or family members who can't afford to lose pay.
Anyone living in small or crowded homes can't isolate from others. Empty hotel rooms and student halls of residence should be used to provide alternative accommodation during isolation if needed, along with food, other supplies, and medical and social support.
The Tories have allocated £10 billion for their privately run track and trace scheme - more than 100 times Public Health England's £90 million pre-Covid annual infectious diseases budget.
Serco, Sitel, Amazon and all other profit-seeking corporations need replacing by well-funded public health services. These local authority services were drastically run down during years of austerity.
Even so, they report much better response rates than the privatised system, They need to be urgently ramped up and coordinated with local NHS-run Covid test centres and GPs - something private companies have failed to do.
Local contact tracers, who know their area and the people who live and work there, are much more likely to be trusted than a remote call centre-based system.
Serco, Sitel and NHS Professionals workers in the existing scheme should be offered retraining and jobs in a publicly run and locally based service.
Labour councils should be immediately building these teams up, demanding the money the government has showered on Serco and other profiteers.
In The Socialist 19 August 2020:
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