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.
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.
Other 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.
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.