The Socialist 20 May 2020 |
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Contract tracer speaks out: Tories' plan is outsourced chaos
An NHS contact tracer
Novel coronavirus Covid-19, photo NIH/CC (Click to enlarge)
The government's new contact tracing scheme is outsourced to Serco - which subcontracted recruitment to Capita.
Both big companies have banked huge sums of public money for years, running public services for profit.
In 2012, Serco was found to have falsified records 252 times at the Cornwall out-of-hours GP service it ran.
Capita archived 148,000 patients' medical records instead of sending them to GP practices in 2015. Despite their record of corner-cutting, bungling and profiteering, the Tories are rewarding them with even more contracts during this crisis.
Testing large numbers of people is the vital first step if Covid-19 is to be controlled without mass vaccination. Medical and practical support is needed for those testing positive.
Contact tracing is then essential, to test people who may be infected but don't yet know it. If a contact tests positive they can isolate instead of spreading the virus.
An effective contact tracing scheme needs local knowledge and local services. Years of austerity cuts have stripped these bare.
Nevertheless, there are still council environmental health and trading standards officers, public health specialists, school nurses, sexual health nurses and health visitors doing similar work.
They have valuable experience and know their local areas. Recently retired community nurses and GPs, and locum GPs, could also be very helpful. A group in Sheffield has successfully shown this.
One of many disastrous government decisions was stopping contact tracing - on 12 March. Unchecked, virus spread accelerated.
Now the Tories are desperately trying to run to catch up. But their legs are tied to their capitalist roots, so they have awarded the contract for a new centralised contact tracing scheme to Serco, rather than properly fund existing local public services.
18,000 contact tracers are being recruited - 15,000 as call handlers, most without clinical experience, on zero-hour contracts, paid just £9.42 an hour, and with one day's training.
Without detailed local knowledge, their task will be more difficult. The intensity of the outbreak varies from place to place, even within the same city.
GPs fear these contact tracing results won't be passed to them as the new service is outside the NHS structure.
Results from the Deloitte-run drive-in testing centres and 'Lighthouse Laboratories', separate from NHS laboratories, have also not been shared with local authority public health departments or GPs. This leaves them in the dark instead of coordinating the response in their area.
This scheme follows a pattern - the government announces large sums of money to fight the virus, most of which is then funnelled to big business.
As well as Serco, Capita and Deloitte, G4S has had contracts at Nightingale hospitals built by Interserve, and pharmaceutical, biotech and medical supplies companies have all had big payments from public funds.
All these big corporations should be nationalised and integrated into a democratically run, well-funded NHS, meeting every local community's needs.