Socialist Alternative

Public Health England Axed as the Tories Attempt to Shift Blame Away from Private Sector Chaos

Two days ago the Sunday Telegraph announced that the Tories are planning to privatise Public Health England and merge it with SERCO and SITEL, deepening the private sectors involvement in the NHS. And today Matt Hancock has confirmed that this plan will go ahead. The Tories claim that PHE has failed the British public; the truth is that it is the private sector that is at fault.

A short timeline of SERCO’s bungling incompetence:

April 30: SERCO was awarded a £45.8 million contract to run the test and trace programme, despite a track record of appalling incompetence. Only months earlier, SERCO was fined £2.6 million for failures on an asylum-seeker accommodation contract between September 2019 and January 2020.

June 22:  Revealed that 90% of people contacted as possibly infected with Covid-19 were traced by local health protection teams rather than the national SERCO call centres and online service, despite SERCO leading the process.  

July 16-22: Figures collected between July 16 and 22 show that only around 50% of people from the same household as a person infected with Covid-19 were being contacted.

July 20: Revealed that SERCO is responsible for two major privacy breeches in the test and trace programme. The government admits to breaking the law in rolling out its test-and-trace programme without a full assessment of the privacy implications.

July 22: Revealed that operations at SERCO are subcontracted to 29 other companies – 85% (9,000 of a total of 10,500) of staff are not employed directly by SERCO. SERCO condemned for failing to learn the lessons of the collapse of construction giant Carillion in 2008. 

August: SERCO’s contract was set to run out on August 23. But despite their incompetence, a further £528 million has now been allocated to extend testing and tracing from that date. This money should be going to fund public health teams who already have the skills and knowledge needed to carry out test and trace operations.  

Why is this so important?

A report commissioned by Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, and carried out by the Academy of Medical Sciences was published on July 14, and advises the government that, without intervention, a realistic worse-case scenario could see an additional 120,000 Covid-19-related hospital deaths (excluding care homes) between September 2020 and June 2021.  

With a fully operational test and trace system this need not be the case, but the current situation should not fill us with confidence.

If the government, and their mates who run outsourcing operations, is unable to get a handle on test and trace now, what hope will they have later in the year when the number of people exhibiting Covid-19 symptoms, due to winter flus and colds, is predicted to rise from 100,000 to 360,000?

Socialist Alternative actively supports the demands for pay rises for NHS and care workers. But we also need to protect our NHS and care workers by putting in place a fully functioning test and trace programme.

We say:

  • Bring all test and trace services in house. No compensation for SERCO or SITEL
  • For an immediate public inquiry independent of government and composed of trade union representatives and health experts into the Tories’ mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic
  • Renationalise the NHS, under democratic control and ownership of workers. Don’t repeat the mistakes of the past by leaving representatives of capitalism in control. Kick out ALL the profiteers
  • Bring the pharmaceutical industry under public ownership to ensure an efficient and joined up response to producing a vaccine
  • Pay NHS and care workers what they deserve. For an immediate 15% pay rise as a step toward correcting the loss of pay over the last decade

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