Welsh secretary Simon Hart has accused the media of concocting a scandal surrounding England’s contract tracing system as he dismissed claims it was an “abject” failure on national television.
Hart struck a defensive tone with Sky News’ Andrew Boulton who confronted him over dire test and trace figures.
“To use Boris Johnson’s words, the government has quite happily spaffed £12 billion away on a test and trace system which by his own admission doesn’t work, handing it over to private contractors and Dido Harding,” Boulton said before pressing for the head of NHS Test and Trace’s resignation.
“She’s had quite a lot of months in this job,” Boulton said, “don’t you think it’s time she went?”
The minister shot back: “I really think that is, if you will forgive me for saying so, and not a particularly accurate or sensible observation.
“The reason I say that is because the UK has built from scratch, in a very short space of time, in very unpredictable and changing circumstances, a really complicated bit of infrastructure.”
He added: “If I had come onto this programme however many months ago and said Dido Harding’s device was going to be absolutely perfect then you would have accused me of being delusional.
“The fact is the system from a standing start has done pretty well. Of course, we’d all have liked it to have done better.
“But it’s unquestionably saved lives and unquestionably helped out in addressing Covid.”
Boulton said the public was losing faith in the government and wanted to know why private contractors had been handed £12 billion to build and run the system, which has continuously failed to meet quotas.
He went on to call the contact tracing arm an “abject failure” and the appointment of Dido Harding, who he claimed had no prior experience in testing and tracing, to lead the nation’s test and trace system a “scandal”.
Hart responded: “It looks like a scandal if you’re a journalist.”
The comment provoked fury online.
Mental health campaigner Mark Everett tweeted: “Dido Harding must go. Track and trace has been a complete and utter disaster from start. On Sunday they only managed to trace 16% so the system is obviously not working. Infection rates are still going up so yes, she must go.”
Dido Harding must go Track and trace has been a complete and utter disaster from start on Sunday they only managed to trace 16% so the system is obviously not working infection rates are still going up so yes she must go
— Mark 🍊🇬🇧🇪🇺🌈NHS (@markeverett1977) October 26, 2020
Brian Robinson wrote: “If it looks like a scandal, walks like a scandal, stinks like a scandal, it’s a f*cking scandal.”
"£12 billion … only looks like a scandal if you're a journalist" says Simon Hart.
— Dr Balloon Lady #LeaveALightOn 🕯 (@ColonelEscargot) October 26, 2020
One user by the name of Ad posted: “In fairness, the booking system and the interface the guys at the test centres use looks good and well thought out. It doesn’t detract from the fact that they were using Excel 2007, aren’t tracing the number of people required and the whole lot cost £12bn & the app didn’t work.”