Prime Minister Boris Johnson was forced to defend the NHS Test and Trace programme recently after a damning report by MPs concluded that there was no clear evidence it had cut COVID-19 infections.
In its report, the Commons Public Accounts Committee called on the Government to justify the “staggering investment” of taxpayers’ money.
A total £37 billion has been allocated for Test and Trace over two years, after Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a further £15 billion for the service in the latest Budget.
How has NHS Test and Trace performed in Cumbria?
Data from the Department for Health and Social care shows at least 454,356 COVID-19 tests were carried out in the area between May 28 and March 3, with a minimum of 28,710 returning positive results.
People aged 50 to 59 produced the largest share of positive tests, for those where an age was provided – at least 4,765 – followed by people aged 20 to 29 (4,386).
Weekly figures are suppressed if they are below three, meaning the totals could be higher.
Over the nine-month period, 26,757 positive cases in Cumbria were transferred to the system for tracing.
Contact tracers ask new patients to give details for anyone they were in close contact with in the 48 hours before their symptoms started.
In total, 51,559 close contacts were identified in the area during that time – those not managed by local health protection teams, which are dealt with through a call centre or online.
Overall, 82.9 per cent of those were reached and advised to self-isolate, meaning 8,808 people were not contacted or did not respond.
That was the highest proportion in the North West, where 74.8 per cent of contacts were reached on average.
Across England, 80.6 per cent of contacts not managed by local health protection had been reached by NHS Test and Trace since its inception.
Local health protection teams deal with cases linked to settings such as hospitals, schools and prisons.
The contact tracing rate including these cases was 81.8 per cent.
Around 3.7 million cases had been transferred to the test and trace system nationally by March 3.
While the PAC said the Test and Trace programme publishes a significant amount of weekly data, it criticised it for failing to show the speed of the process from “cough to contact” and therefore not allowing the public to judge the overall effectiveness of the programme.
PAC MPs also said ministers had justified the vast expenditure on preventing a second national lockdown, but noted the fact that England is currently enduring its third in questioning the programme’s effectiveness.
They also urged the scheme led by Tory peer Dido Harding to “wean itself off” reliance on thousands of expensive consultants and temporary staff, with some receiving £6,624 per day.
Defending the programme during Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Johnson said: “It’s thanks to NHS Test and Trace that we’re able to send kids back to school and begin cautiously and irreversibly to reopen our economy and restart our lives.”