Baroness Dido Harding has faced calls to “consider her position” following a challenging week for NHS Test and Trace.
The GMB Union said the Test and Trace programme had seen “blunder after blunder” under Harding’s leadership, calling for it to be “led by experts and public authorities”.
It comes as nearly 16,000 Covid-19 cases went unreported between 25 September and 2 October, reportedly due to an error with a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet.
The error resulted in delays in getting in touch with close contacts of those who had tested positive for the virus.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Parliament on 7 October that Test and Trace is still “chasing the contacts” of those who went unreported.
In a further blow to Test and Trace, weekly figures released on Thursday (8 October) revealed just 68.6% of close contacts of those who had tested positive were able to be reached, marking the lowest percentage since the programme began.
At the same time Covid-19 cases in England have increased 56%, with some 51,475 people testing positive for coronavirus for the first time between 24 September and 30 September.
Harding is the executive chair of NHS Test and Trace and interim chair of of the newly announced Health Protection England.
Rehana Azam, GMB national secretary, said: “The Prime Minister said he couldn’t think of anyone better than Baroness Harding to run the UK’s Test and Trace programme, and that shows a clear lack of judgement.
“There is now ample proof to show that the UK’s Test and Trace programme needs to be taken into public hands and led by experts and local authorities, not party-political cronies.
“It’s time for Dido Harding to consider her positions”.
The GMB is not alone in it’s calls for Harding to consider her position within Test and Trace.
Following confirmation that thousands of cases of Covid-19 had gone unreported for days, some took to Twitter to express concern over her role despite Public Health England being responsible for managing the missing data.
Harding is responsible for overseeing the new National Institute for Health Protection announced in August, which merges Public Health England with NHS Test and Trace as well as the Joint Biosecurity Centre under a single leadership team.
The public health consequences of this raise so many questions
How many contacts of these *missing* 16,000 have been unknowingly spreading the virus?
When will the Govt deliver a functional test & trace system?
Why is Dido Harding still in her job?https://t.co/l8f2pAF9J4
— Caroline Lucas (@CarolineLucas) October 5, 2020
Dido Harding latest:
◾️ People having to drive 700 miles for tests
◾️ Tests unavailable in vast parts of the country
◾️ Tracers sitting idle
◾️ Numbers traced way too low
◾️ Test results in 24 hours plummeting
◾️ 16000 tests lost
Promote her to head up everything
— David Schneider (@davidschneider) October 5, 2020
The starting point to fixing our Test and Trace system is to kick out Serco and to sack Dido Harding.
Then the government should put the billions wasted on failing private companies into our NHS, who'll do the job properly.
— Richard Burgon MP (@RichardBurgon) October 5, 2020
The missing cases
Public Health England (PHE) confirmed on 4 October that some 15,841 cases between 25 September and 2 October were left out of daily figures.
The glitch resulted in efforts to trace contacts of those who tested positive being delayed, but PHE said they have since transferred all outstanding cases to NHS Test and Trace.
Speaking in the House of Commons on 5 October health secretary Matt Hancock said it was a “serious issue that is being investigated fully”, adding that it “should never have happened”.
Reports have suggested the glitch was caused by an Excel spreadsheet, which contained lab results, reaching its maximum size and therefore preventing new cases from being added to the file.