McKinsey to evaluate British NHS Test and Trace programme

27 July 2020 3 min. read
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Global consulting firm McKinsey & Company is undertaking a review of the governance underwriting the UK’s programme to warn citizens that they may have been exposed to the coronavirus. The move comes as the project reaches a cross-roads in its leadership’s mandate, weeks after the programme was criticised for being too slow to warn people in areas of high infection rates.

As the world’s governments have looked to bring the Covid-19 pandemic under control, technology to record new cases, and alert people who may have come into contact with infected individuals have proven crucial. States that initiated test and trace regimes early – including Germany, South Korea, Hong Kong, New Zealand and Canada – have fared better than those that did not.

One of the best known success stories has been South Korea, with the Asian nation commencing its regime several weeks before the WHO’s “test, test, test” appeal back in March. South Korea was quickly able to test an average of 12,000 people a day – and sometimes as many as 20,000 – at hundreds of drive-through and walk-in testing centres, free of charge, while people received results via their phones within the space of 24 hours.

McKinsey to evaluate British NHS Test and Trace programme

Unfortunately, the promise of the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to emulate such successes, and deliver a “world-beating” coronavirus test, track and trace regime by June has proven easier said than done. According to The Guardian, the service which since launched to track and help prevent the spread of Covid-19 in England has reportedly failed to contact thousands of people in areas with the highest infection rates in the country.

The government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), agreed that at least 80% of contacts would need to isolate for an effective test and trace system – however, data shows that in areas with high infection rates, the proportion of close contacts of infected being reached is far below that. In Luton, which has the sixth highest infection rate in England, for example, only 47% of people at risk of infection were found to have been contacted.

As the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) looks to improve the service, the Health Service Journal has revealed that McKinsey & Company has been tasked with reviewing the governance of the NHS Test and Trace programme. The consultancy will now consider which level of state management would facilitate the best provision of its future services – be that remaining under the direct control of the DHSC, gain greater operational independence, or be merged with another entity of the DHSC, such as Public Health England.

The appointment comes as the executives of the NHS Test and Trace programme who were, hired for short contracts, are reaching the end of their mandate. Tony Prestedge, Director of Operations, is set to take on the post of CEO of Santander UK, while Tom Riordan, Tracing Manager, will resume his role as CEO of Leeds City Council, and Sarah-Jane Marsh, Test Programme Manager, will return to the management of Birmingham Women and Children's NHS Foundation Trust in the autumn.