16 June 2020
By Amelia Schofield
The past few months have been difficult for us all. We need an effective contact tracing system so that we can be reunited with our loved ones while keeping the virus under control. However, the government has put us all at risk with by its decision to outsource this crucial service in England to Serco - a private multinational with a history of failing to deliver the public services we deserve.
A leaked email from Serco’s chief executive recently revealed that the company wants to use this new contract to ‘cement the position of the private sector’ in our NHS. We cannot let them get away with it. We need to scrap Serco and take back public control of contact tracing to protect our NHS now.
It is one disaster after another with Serco
It has been less than a month since Serco were awarded this multi-million pound contract and already there have been a series of unforgivable mistakes. NHS nurses have accused Serco of wasting their time after staff could not log on to the contact tracing system. Serco was also forced to apologise after it accidentally shared the private email addresses of almost 300 contact tracers.
Serco’s failure to properly train staff and provide accurate data is stopping our local authorities from being able to protect us. Local figures in Greater Manchester complained that most of the information they received from Serco’s handlers had to be sent back ‘because the data was so rubbish’. There are also concerns that not enough people are being contacted for contact tracing in England to be effective. Meanwhile, an urgent investigation has also been launched into a private company hired by Serco, after they were accused of not following social distancing rules in their call centres.
Serco has a history of failing our NHS
None of this is surprising. Serco’s terrible track record is proof that it should never be allowed anywhere near our NHS. Serco has previously been forced to pull out of a contract to provide out-of-hours GP services after the company falsified NHS data 252 times. It was also revealed in 2018 that Serco provided just one hour of training to staff working on a breast cancer screening hotline.
We all know Serco are a disaster, so why were they given control over our health?
Good question. Some tracing of Serco’s own contacts reveals that they have a lot of friends in high places. Serco’s current CEO is the grandson of Sir Winston Churchill and the brother of former Conservative MP Sir Nicholas Soames. Current Conservative MP and junior health minister, Edward Argar, also used to work for Serco.
The government has also brought in Baroness Dido Harding to chair the programme, despite Harding’s role as the head of TalkTalk during the 2015 hacking scandal, when over 150,000 customers had their details stolen. This raises major concerns given the need to protect our private data as the contact tracing scheme is rolled out.
Scotland and Wales said no to privatisation
But while England’s way out of lockdown has been sold off to Serco, Scotland and Wales have decided to keep control of their contact tracing operations. This decision has protected them from the multiple disasters already caused by Serco’s handling of the system in England. The results from a local in-house contact tracing service in Wales further show that our healthcare services must be run in the interests of the public, not private profit. The council’s scheme has been credited with turning Ceredigion into the safest county in mainland Britain.
Our local communities need control
The success of this Welsh in-house service proves that when local communities are given control over their response, the virus can be controlled. Public health experts have criticised the government’s centralised and privatised approach to contact tracing in England and called for local authorities and public health experts to be given control instead. This has been echoed by local councillors who know that local expertise - not private logic - is what is needed to protect public health.
Over the last few months we have seen the power that our local communities have when we come together and organise. Mutual Aid groups and local charities across the country have ensured that the most vulnerable among us have been protected and supported throughout this crisis. We must continue to work together to protect our local communities and control the virus as we move out of lockdown.
Image credit: Senseiich - Creative Commons