Dido Harding and Matt Hancock at Downing Street press briefing. Photo: Andrew Parsons / Flickr - No 10 Downing Street / cropped from original / licensed under CC 2.0, links at the bottom of article Dido Harding and Matt Hancock at Downing Street press briefing. Photo: Andrew Parsons / Flickr - No 10 Downing Street / cropped from original / licensed under CC 2.0, links at the bottom of article

The government’s privatisation of public services is at the heart of the Test and Trace failures and it’s costing lives, argues Lucy Nichols

Once again, the Tory government has proven itself incapable of providing a working test and trace system.

In a blunder described as an ‘IT error’ by Public Health England, over 50,000 potentially infectious people were not told to self-isolate, after almost 16,000 positive Covid-19 tests were not officially reported.

Whether using an Excel spreadsheet to store the data of hundreds of thousands of people can be described as an ‘error’ or gross, astonishing incompetence is debatable. Calls have already been made for the resignation of Dido Harding, the Tory in charge of Test and Trace.

This has of course had repercussions all over the country. With further lockdown restrictions imposed on Merseyside last week, where thousands of cases were missed, this throws into doubt whether tighter restrictions were necessary, or if they ought to be made even stricter.

The glitch will also put further pressure on Britain’s already threadbare test and trace system.

This is the most recent disaster in a series of Tory shortfalls, that seems to be growing more and more frequent as the government muddles its way through a pandemic. What started as a delayed lockdown has culminated with utter catastrophe, as thousands of University students are infected, thousands have lost their jobs, and now thousands risk spreading the virus even more.

It is also indicative of the risk brought on by the privatisation of public services, a strategy that has failed us time and time again.

The Conservatives have continuously outsourced public services, giving various contracts to friends and relatives as a sort of twisted patronage.

The case of Dido Harding is fairly damning: the woman in charge of the test and trace programme is now also set to become head of the new Nation Institute for Health Protection – the body that will replace Public Health England.

The backbench Tory peer is also the disgraced CEO of TalkTalk, the mobile network that went into administration after a data breach of epic proportions.

Her appointment as head of various public bodies is not only concerning given her obvious ineptitude but also given the fact that she’s a die-hard Tory and is therefore somewhat biased in favour of the government.

Also worth mentioning is that her husband, John Penrose sits on the advisory board of think tank ‘1828’, which calls for the NHS to be replaced by an insurance system and supports the move to do away with Public Health England.

Meanwhile, the taskforce in charge of providing a Coronavirus vaccine is headed up by Kate Bingham – who works for the private healthcare company SV Health Investors, and is married to the Conservative MP Jesse Norman.

As exasperating as it is to watch our government make mistake after mistake, it also means that people are dying as a direct result of the Conservative government and its money-saving policies. This is not just incompetence, but part of a pattern of corruption.

As the Pope recently put it; ‘The fragility of world systems in the face of the pandemic has demonstrated that not everything can be resolved by market freedom.’

We must continue to campaign against disastrous Tory rule, and the many disasters of market capitalism – only really exacerbated by the pandemic – that continue to allow thousands of tragic and unnecessary deaths.

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