By: Phil de Souza, Bame Officer, Bath Labour Party
The Tories have used the COVID crisis to extend privatisation of crucial
health services, to their corporate cronies. On the 18th August, Labour
Party members joined with other campaigners from Protect Our NHS in
a nationwide protest (Not a penny more to Serco!) at the latest ‘sell
out’ at Bath’s Guildhall. The protest publicised the Government’s
decision to continue funding Serco’s operation of the failing Track and
Trace scheme and not transfer these funds to Local Authorities, who are
better able to do the work locally.
This involves an abrupt Government decision to abolish Public Health
England (PHE) and merge its operations with the failing Test and Trace
scheme already run by outsourcing to Serco and led by ex -TalkTalk
phones CEO, Baroness Diana ‘Dido’ Harding. She will now continue to
run that scheme and head up the successor to PHE: a National Institute
for Health Protection.
Before her appointment at Test and Trace, Harding’s experience was
limited to corporate marketing roles. Whilst in her role as CEO at
TalkTalk, she was criticised for a major hack of thousands of customers’
Separately, Serco has also been caught up in a string of scandals
involving potential frauds in payments for outsourced public services.
Under Harding’s watch, Test and Trace has failed to reach its targets.
Around 3 million tests have been done; but despite attempts to trace the
contacts of the 53,000 testing positive, nearly 20% of these were not
traced. By mid-August Serco’s each of 10,000 contact tracers had only
spoken to an average of 2.4 people.
Critics have described Serco’s take-over of PHE as, in effect,the
privatisation of crucial community health services, for problems such as
sexual health and obesity; and that test and trace would be more
effective if devolved completely to local health agencies. Local
authorities will play a part in the new Serco-managed system, but will
receive no extra funding from central Government, which will, however,
reward Serco substantially for its new business.