On Tuesday 18th August 2020, I spoke at a Sheffield rally organised by We Own It and Sheffield Save Our NHS, to protest the Serco continuing to run the Government’s track-and-trace system, and the scrapping of Public Health England. Below is my speech in full.
Not only were the government quite slow to implement a testing system for everyone, including NHS workers, meaning thousands of patients were moved from hospitals into care homes without ever being tested. They now want to scrap Public Health England, perhaps to make it Private Health England.
We know that the contracts have been given to their friends in high places in these companies, and we know that billions and millions of pounds are being spent on private healthcare at the moment. Thankfully, in the teaching hospitals in Sheffield, they were a lot quicker to provide tests to staff, nearly ten days before it was recommended by central government. They used their in-house expertise to provide tests early to keep health workers on the frontline before the spike in the pandemic.
It is not enough that the government left it to individual hospitals. We need Ministers to properly resource a national routine testing regime for all NHS workers that could keep staff safe, keep patients safe, prevent the spread of the infection in healthcare settings, and keep health workers & support staff at work and get the NHS back on track.
The reason I’m still talking about this is because the government has so far failed to do this. In fact, they voted against Labour’s amendments to do just that. There is a stark difference between how hospitals in Sheffield approached the use of in-house expertise and the government’s approach to testing and tracking.
A complicated system has been created involving multiple private companies, and it is still unclear to me why Serco was given the track-and-trace contract. It has no expertise in this area, has already apologised for breaching data protection, and was previously fined a £1 million pounds for failure to deliver public service contracts; and now it’s been revealed that they are being fined a further £2 million pounds. Awarded a contract for £45.8 million- they are only achieving 53% of contracts on that programme.
On care homes we have seen outbreaks at 1 in 3, which is shocking. We found out earlier in the crisis that there was a cap on tests in care homes. We could see that managers may have been placed in a difficult position of choosing to test their staff or their patients and residents. Testing of patients discharged to care homes must not be forgotten, and we have seen failure on delivering regular testing to care homes over the holidays. I promised to repeatedly push back, push back, as tests were deemed unfit.
Going back to Serco, it’s absolutely clear that they are not fit to deliver this service. Rather than private companies with little or no medical and testing experience, we should learn from the health professionals and public health experts who are working hard to respond to local public health emergency. We have seen a failure in ensuring real time testing data that is shared with Public Health directors, sometimes paused for days, even recently, a frustration that I know has been felt up and down the country as more and more local areas feel unsafe again.
The government has been slow to act to get any kind of track-and-trace in place, and then this failing contract comes along. But we now need to put pressure on again to ensure that the future of any tracking system is informed by expert opinion, properly integrated with response teams on the ground, and sensitive to the needs of our community. We all know our communities better at a local level. We know the individual needs of our community and we should have a system that reflects that, but that requires cash coming down to the local level and powers for local authorities. I welcome the calls of We Own It and Sheffield Save Our NHS to remove Serco from this contract and not to renew this, and have more of a local approach.
Let’s never forget we’ve got Public Health in this country, not private health.