The Health Summary is part of our Weekly COVID-19 Bulletin, sent every Thursday. You can sign up to receive your copy here.
NHS Test and Trace
A report published by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on NHS Test and Trace (NHST&T) has argued that despite the ‘unimaginable’ cost, the scheme has failed to deliver on its central promise of averting another lockdown. The Committee argued it is hard to justify the cost of the scheme, which is over £37bn, after it found no clear evidence of the NHST&T’s overall effectiveness and its contribution to reducing Covid-19 infection levels.
The Committee Chair Meg Hillier said: ‘DHSC and NHST&T must rapidly turn around these fortunes and begin to demonstrate the worth and value of this staggering investment of taxpayers’ money…British taxpayers cannot be treated by Government like an ATM machine. We need to see a clear plan and costs better controlled.’
Labour said that the report shows the failures of the outsourced scheme and that it ‘underlines the epic amounts of waste and incompetence, an overreliance on management consultants, taxpayers’ cash splashed on crony contracts, all while ministers insist our NHS heroes deserve nothing more than a clap and a pay cut. The Conservatives’ wasteful obsession with outsourcing must end and contact tracing should be run by our public health teams.’
Although the Government is yet to respond to the report, the Prime Minister has recently praised NHST&T for its impact on getting children back into school and enabling the country to ‘cautiously and irreversibly’ reopen its economy. Also on Tuesday, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock praised the NHST&T team for successfully testing 1.5m people in one day.
NHS staff pay rise
The debate on NHS staff pay following on from their work during the pandemic has continued this week. This comes after last week the Government proposed a 1% rise in NHS staff pay, which Labour argues is actually a pay cut after inflation.
Speaking to the House of Commons on Wednesday, Labour Leader Kier Starmer said: ‘The mask really is slipping, and we can see what the Conservative party now stands for: cutting pay for nurses; putting taxes up on families. He has had the opportunity to change course, but he has refused to do so.’
NHS Providers called the pay proposal a ‘disappointment’ and said a real terms pay increase ‘would go some way towards recognising and rewarding the contribution and the sacrifices that the NHS workforce has made over the past year.’
The Government has repeatedly justified its decision; on Wednesday the Prime Minister highlighted that the Government has delivered a 12.8% increase in the starting salary of nurses over the last three years and has boosted nursing recruitment. An independent pay review will make a final recommendation for NHS staff pay in the coming months, until then, it is likely that this debate will rumble on.
NHS waiting lists
NHS England data published this morning shows the full extent of the impact of the second coronavirus wave on non-Covid-19 health services. 4.59m patients were waiting to start elective care treatment at the end of January 2021, with 304,044 of these patients waiting over a year. Waiting times for cancer treatment have also increased.
Nuffield Trust highlighted that the NHS waiting list is now at the highest point since records began in August 2007. It suggested that although non-Covid activity has been higher than in the first wave, the pandemic response has slowed the stream of routine and it is likely that with referrals to GPs also falling in January, there is a hidden patient group not yet on the waiting list that will need treatment in the future. It calls for a plan to boost NHS capacity, with additional resources as the damage from the pandemic is likely to be felt in years ahead.
The Health Foundation also called for additional support for the NHS and staff. Dr Jennifer Dixon, Chief Executive of the Health Foundation, said: ‘The Government and NHS leaders will now need to be clear with the public about how they intend to deal with the backlog of unmet need, as well as achieve the ambitions to modernise care set out in the NHS long term plan. This will need significant investment at the next Spending Review, in particular if we are to see improvement on waiting lists and plugging staff shortages, which are holding back progress.’
The roll out of the Covid-19 vaccine has successfully continued this week, with latest figures showing that over 22m people have had their first dose. The roll out is now reaching all people over 55 and those in the priority groups. 40,000 unpaid careers are also eligible for the vaccine from this week. The Health Secretary Matt Hancock recently said that the Government is on track to offer a first dose to the entire adult population by the end of July.
In a speech to the Global COVID-19 Vaccine Supply Chain and Manufacturing Summit, Hancock attributed the UK’s vaccine success to investing early into vaccine research and clinical trials around the world, as well as adopting an ambitious roll-out schedule.