Local Contact Tracing

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:19 pm on 14th October 2020.

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Photo of Beth Winter Beth Winter Labour, Cynon Valley 6:19 pm, 14th October 2020

The purpose of test, track and trace is to save lives. Despite the Prime Minister’s promise of a “world-beating” system, the system that we have is shambolic. Health contracts worth £830 million have been handed to private companies using public money to run ineffective systems, instead of investing in our public services. In Wales, we have established a successful public sector “test, trace, protect” system, and recent figures show that 96% of close contacts have been reached—much higher than the Serco private sector system. Currently, however, testing in Wales is still partly dependent on the UK Government’s privately run and centrally managed testing system, which has caused confusion and placed people at risk.

I will illustrate the point with my experience in Cynon Valley, which has one of the privately run centres. It is a case study in how not to do things. On 17 September, because of a worrying increase in covid cases in my constituency, serious local restrictions were placed on us that meant that people could not travel in or out of the local authority area without a reasonable excuse. A Serco covid-19 testing site was established in the village of Abercynon, where it became apparent that operational failures were compromising the new restrictions brought in for the area. There was a shortage of testing kits, which resulted in the site being closed for several hours, and there were problems with the administration of the testing regime.

I was astounded to find that the centrally administered, privately run system was allocating appointments that required people to travel hundreds of miles across the UK, including families with children and vulnerable people. That was unacceptable and extremely dangerous to those coming into the high-incidence area, as well as to the local population in my constituency. I wrote to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care on that day in September with a series of questions, but I have yet to receive a response. That is totally unacceptable.

Thank goodness that in Wales we have a measure of independence from this Tory Government, and that we were able to act to address the problems through a system co-ordinated by a proactive local authority health board and the Welsh Government. As the public are asked to make sacrifices to reduce the transmission of covid-19, it is imperative for the Government to keep their side of the bargain and get the test, track and trace system right. Most importantly, I know from experience that local decision making in action is best, as are publicly owned services. Let us learn the lessons of Abercynon, invest in our public services and not let private profit and greed override the health needs in our communities.