From our Swindon correspondent:
From The Guardian
If you are not incandescent with rage, you haven’t grasped the scale of what has been done to us. The new surge in the coronavirus, and the restrictions and local lockdowns it has triggered, are caused in large part by the catastrophic failure of the test-and-trace system. Its £12bn budget has been blown, as those in charge of it have failed to drive the infection rate below the critical threshold.
No, not Connecting for Health, the Tony Blair initiative to build an NHS records system that squandered £12bn on consultants, but Test and Trace.
Their failure was baked in, caused by the government’s ideological commitment to the private sector. This commitment had three impacts: money that could have saved lives has been diverted into corporate profits; inexperienced consultants and executives have been appointed over the heads of qualified public servants; instead of responsive local systems, the government has created a centralised monster.
OK, locationisation is probably a very good idea (as always). But if this has been a failure, where are the lawsuits? People in government have written tenders to supply, yes? They’ll have written deliverables and service level agreements into those, right? They’ll have penalties for failure? They’ll have done regular progress monitoring to make sure that suppliers are going to deliver, with stage payments and a contingency supplier for something so critical?
No-one has yet explained what, precisely, these suppliers have done wrong. Where they deviated from what the civil servants have asked them to do. Suppliers to government do sometimes cock up, sure, but when it’s a vague “it’s all down to the consultants”, it rather triggers my Spider sense. We know that the crappy use of Excel wasn’t at Serco or any other supplier, but inside the Department of Health.
The issue here is like if you invite Rabbi Cohen and the local synagogue over and you tell the caterers that you want prawn cocktail for starters, follows by pork. This is going to be a disaster, but you can’t blame the caterers, can you? You asked them for something and they delivered. It’s your fault.
Most of the stories I heard about Connecting for Health weren’t that the analysts and programmers didn’t do their job, is that the NHS were constantly changing requirements rather than getting things shipped. So if you moved the programmers inside the Department of Health, you’d just get the same problem. Maybe the people on HS2 are filling their boots, but you can’t blame them for it being a bloody stupid idea.
The Conservative mantra, repeated for 40 years like a stuck record, is that the public sector is wasteful and inefficient while the private sector is lean and competitive. Yet the waste and inefficiency caused by privatising essential public health functions is off the scale. This isn’t like rail or water privatisation, where failure has caused dysfunction within a single public service. This is about the escalating collapse of national life.
And yet, when the private sector works for the private sector, it tends to work out pretty well, doesn’t it? My 3 man dental practice has digital records, even showing a graphic of my teeth, with all of my history, and had SMS reminders long before the NHS did. How do they have better software than the glorious NHS does?