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Test and trace failures turn spotlight on Deloitte

An outsourcing scandal is brewing around the government’s £12bn coronavirus test and trace program, as experts call for a public inquiry into the costs of using private operators to provide the NHS service.

15th Oct 2020
Journalist
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Calls grow for enquiry into test and trace system managed by outsourcers like Deloitte
iStock_Covid test centre_richard johnson

Private sector consultants are reportedly being paid thousands of pounds a day by the government to deliver the services, which have been criticised for failing to keep the virus under control and inaccurate data collection.

Last week, Sky News reported that more than 1,000 consultants from Big Four accountant Deloitte were working on the NHS Test and Trace programme, on day rates of as much as £2,360. The broadcaster said documents showed more private sector consultants have since been hired by the government to work on its “Moonshot” mass testing programme.

Some 165 consultants were recruited to work on the scheme between now and November, including 84 more from Deloitte, 31 from EY and 50 from KPMG, with a further 42 roles potentially available for consultants.

Aggressive outsourcing

Other deals outsourcing deals include using DHL, Unipart and Movianto to procure, store and distribute personal protective equipment (PPE), while Deloitte was tasked with managing the logistics of national drive-in testing centres and super-labs

The value of the test and trace contact secured by Deloitte has not been disclosed. The firm has been responsible for managing logistics across these sites alongside booking tests, sending samples to laboratories and communicating test results.

Deloitte nominated Serco, Sodexo, Mitie, G4S and Boots to staff and manage operations at the testing sites. Anyone unable to access the testing sites was advised to request home testing kits produced and processed by diagnostics company Randox, in a contract worth £133m, and dispatched by Amazon.

“Since the passing of the Health and Social Care Act in 2012 the NHS in England has been forced down a route of increased marketisation and privatisation – and the government has accelerated its aggressive outsourcing to private firms during the COVID-19 pandemic,” British Medical Association council deputy chair David Wrigley said.

The BMA has called for a public inquiry into the government’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak and in particular to scrutinise the role of outsourcing.

‘World-beating’ test and trace inquiry

Labour peer and accounting academic Lord Sikka tabled an urgent question in Parliament over the costs of the contracts for the Big Four along with G4S and Serco.

“I think there is an outsourcing scandal – numerous contracts given to small unknown entities, big accounting firms and corporations who have no track record of delivering PPE or test and trace facility,” he told AccountingWEB. “Maybe one day we will have a public inquiry but I suspect parliamentary committees would look at it first.”

Despite being hailed as a “world-beating” system by both Prime Minister Boris Johnson and health secretary Matt Hancock, the UK’s response has been beset with flubs.

Earlier this month, a technical glitch in Microsoft Excel meant that almost 16,000 coronavirus cases went unreported, leading to a huge rise in official case numbers and overloading the reporting system. The knock-on effect was a delay in tracing nearly 50,000 contacts of people who tested positive for the virus.

Public Health England (PHE) said the technical issue, which resulted in 15,841 cases between September 25 and October 2 being left out of the reported daily coronavirus cases, has since been resolved.

Meanwhile, in July it emerged that the swabs in many batches of the home testing kits were not fit for purpose and had to be withdrawn.

And last month it was revealed that hospitals had asked to take over the running of Deloitte’s testing centre at Chessington World of Adventures, in Surrey, after the test results of NHS staff were lost or sent to the wrong people.

Unprecedented workload

Tamzen Isacsson, chief executive of the Management Consultancies Association (MCA), said a large number of consultancy firms had been hired during the pandemic to support “critical government projects” such as test and trace.

“The consulting sector has provided multi-disciplinary capabilities and senior experience very quickly to support government and has helped deal with complex negotiations around data, infrastructure and procurement at pace,” she said.

Isacsson said MCA member firms used by the government had been procured through “competitively tendered Crown Commercial Service frameworks which evaluate bidding firms against quality and cost criteria”.

“We should remember that government is dealing with an unprecedented volume of workload and major upheaval due to Covid-19 and using external resources has enabled them to work quickly and with intensity in many areas,” she said.

A DHSC spokesperson said: “NHS Test and Trace is the biggest testing system per head of population of all the major countries in Europe. To build the largest diagnostic network in British history, it requires us to work with both public and private sector partners with the specialist skills and experience we need.

“Deloitte is immensely proud to have been able to step up and answer the government’s call to British businesses to support the national testing programme when the pandemic first emerged. At short notice we have provided the capacity, skills and expertise at the scale needed to support this critically important programme.”

The DHSC declined to answer which company has been awarded the contract to upgrade the data collection mechanism mentioned by health secretary Matt Hancock in Parliament last week. It also refused to confirm if Deloitte was maintaining the data from Pillar 2 community-based testing, which concerns the results from home-testing kits and drive-in and walk-in centres that fell off the bottom of PHE’s obsolete Excel spreadsheet.

Replies (15)

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blue sheep
By NH
15th Oct 2020 18:04

Glitches in Excel? If only they had Made Covid Digital this never would happened

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By carnmores
15th Oct 2020 19:07

test and trace will not work young people who are carriers and symptomatic do not want the government knowing where they are or what they are doing. what needs reinforcing is the use of masks and looking after vulnerable relatives

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By RaxJ
15th Oct 2020 20:57

This has been a disaster. I suggest Deloitte staff take a course in excel... Other than that, people need to limit their outings, keep a safe distance, wear a mask and respect the rules.

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By SXGuy
16th Oct 2020 06:40

I just don't believe any figures government come out with anymore. Nor do I believe any narrative the media push, its been a total black out on scrutiny.

Beginning of the week they report 16k tests missing from database and adding them back would cause a sharp rise is numbers, 3 days later media report worse day for number of positive tests.

Offcom published new guidance in March that said no media can critise anything public health England put out.

The home testing kits apparently have a false positive rate of around 8/10.
But have heard rumours the media when stating how many test positive are including the false ones also.

Places like gt Manchester being used as a Guinea pig for the new 3 tier system while many will lose their jobs and receive no help.

25 used tests kits accidently being sent out to people.

I could go on and on but the main point is, we're not being told the whole truth and lockdown measures are being put in place over figures you wouldnt even sign off on if it was audited.

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By paulwakefield1
16th Oct 2020 07:58

A bit unfair to blame Excel "Technical glitch in Excel". It was not Excel's fault that an old version/format was used which was bound to cause data to fall outside the widely known parameter limitations. There were at least 4 fundamental flaws identifiable from the reports:

Failing to have an automated check that what was imported matched the source
Using .xls files reducing row capacity from 1m+ to 64k
Having multiple rows per record further reducing available data capacity
Using Excel in the first place for the database (although this is much less of a failing than it would have been in the past). It should just have been used for analysis.

I also assume a failing to use for instance Power BI which would have been more powerful and highly unlikely to hit data limits.

If only they had read the ICAEW's own 20 Spreadsheet Principles!

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By Justin Bryant
16th Oct 2020 13:25

Nice work if you can get it. A lot of the usual noses in yet another government trough. Always nice to know that our Government is spending our hard-earned tax money so wisely. See:
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/sep/10/uk-corrupt-nation-...

It's all hardly surprising, as the City and Government are full of psychopaths who will always try to capitalise on a national crisis.

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By SteveHa
16th Oct 2020 09:17

Hand over health issues to a stream of business companies and expect them to perform, even if they do disguise themselves as the NHS (I'm looking at you, Serco).

Here's a radical thought, properly fund the NHS (likely at a fraction of the consultancy costs) and let the experts do it.

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By lesley.barnes
16th Oct 2020 09:39

I live in Bolton which had a harsh lockdown for just over 3 weeks because cases rocketed. It was a case of restrictions are easing, then they weren't, then they were eased, then we were put into tier 2 and now possibly tier 3. It is impossible for me to help businesses to plan day to day. No one ever said why the cases rocketed from very few to the worst place in the UK. I presume that the track and trace wasn't up to analysing why or they didn't want to make it pubic.

The reason given by the council was that a super spreader had come back from Ibiza and not isolated, gone out with friends round the pubs and spread it that way. Whilst we were locked down, publicans were pouring beer down the drains and all that happened was that people travelled to other areas to go out and spread it around that way.

Figures here are still not coming down no matter what we do. On a personal level I haven't seen my mum who is in a care home since March - they locked down early, the home has never "unlocked" I have only seen my grandchildren three times since March and then only outdoors.

I can't download the app to my iPhone - its too old and I'm don't need to upgrade. My husband has the app and for the most part when we do go out for the weekly shop we are usually together. Unless track and trace works, people cooperate and proper analysis is done on the reasons for spread I don't think the local lockdowns will work. Local lockdowns really are like whack a mole. It didn't work here - the figures speak for themselves.

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By Craig Tysall
16th Oct 2020 11:31

"capacity, skills and expertise..." Don't make me laugh! There is no evidence of any of this. More like Greed, Stupidity and Stubbornness.

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By dmmarler
16th Oct 2020 11:31

Don't blame Excel - blame the NHS. We knew all its IT systems were behind the rest of us when the last set of Microsoft upgrades went through. OK, the NHS gets insufficient funds but it is up to the NHS managers to prioritise how the funds are spent and - if they are not getting adequate funding from the taxpayer - do something about it. Adequate computer systems are essential to running any major business nowadays, and that is what the NHS is.

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By KH
16th Oct 2020 15:55

Actually, the people to blame for the mess we are in are all those that voted for this overweight bloated blonde idiot to run the country ... crises come and go, it's LIFE for heaven's sake ... but the type of bloke you wouldn't mind having a pint down the pub with is NOT the sort of guy you want to run a country ... the government is out of touch, has no idea what it is doing, knows only how to lie through its teeth, and continue to lie despite it being obvious it is lying, and we are fast heading down the Big American Yellow Jobbie Road ... what a mess. At least BIG YELLOW TRUMP looks like he is enjoying it, whereas our BIG BLONDE LEADER looks like he is having one helluva bad nightmare (yes, it's called LIFE, but he hasn't had one till now........ and he doesn't know how to deal with it after having had such a privileged upbringing).

But the sun is shining, covid19 will eventually have its way, the planet might have a much better chance of recovering when there are far less of us humans around, and the cosmos will continue ... next instalment to follow (probably) in the next creation .... or the one after that!

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Replying to KH:
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By carnmores
16th Oct 2020 16:08

utter rubbish , go on blame the politicians. we the people are to blame. people should not be out on the lash partying in the streets after getting [***] up. test and trace wont work becasue the young dont want big brother peering into their personal lives how is that the poiliticians fault

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Replying to carnmores:
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By KH
19th Oct 2020 17:24

Hi

I'm actually saying it's us to blame, not the polluticians (much better spelling than politicians!) ... but you are correct in that my post doesn't give any credit whatsoever to those who have been voted in by us to be our leaders ... as the saying goes, you get what you deserve, or, in this instance, you get nothing more than the utter rubbish you vote for!

With best regards and respect to your opinions, even if we differ wonderfully...

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Replying to KH:
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By SXGuy
19th Oct 2020 17:46

To be fair none of us knew this was coming at the last election and most people voted in who would deliver brexit like it or not

And if you seriously believe Corbyn would have done a better job at tackling this I don't know what to say to you.

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Replying to KH:
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By carnmores
19th Oct 2020 17:48

Nice try but it doesn't wash. There is no template for eradicating this virus. If there was all countries would be using it. Do carry on venting.

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