Dido Harding has refused to apologise for any damage caused to the NHS’s brand by her heavily criticised test and trace service.
The Tory peer told a Health Service Journal summit that “far from apologising, I’d like to say thank you to the NHS staff” for helping support the system through laboratory work and clinical help on tracing.
Harding also said that it was “impossible to answer” whether she would be interesting in running the entire NHS when chief executive Sir Simon Stevens steps down.
During the web summit, she revealed that the bulk of Boris Johnson’s new £7bn cash boost for the service will be spent on rapid mass testing rather than contact tracing.
Test and Trace now has a £22bn budget, equivalent to nearly a fifth of the entire NHS budget each year.
Despite its chequered history, Harding vowed that NHS Test and Trace would hit the 80% target for reaching “close contacts” of people who test positive for Covid, without saying when that would happen.
At present, roughly 60% of close contacts – those who spend more than 15 minutes less than two metres from someone with coronavirus – are being reached.
The latest statistics for the week to November 18 showed that just 60.3% were being reached, down on the 60.5% of the previous week. It is now close to the record low rate of 60.1% in mid October.
Test turnaround times within 24 hours improved from 38% to 50.6%, though they are still well short of the 100% target set by Boris Johnson for the end of June.
NHS Test and Trace has been dogged by criticism since its launch in May, not least for its use of outsourced private sector firms like Serco and Deloitte and Harding’s own appointment by health secretary Matt Hancock.
Its performance on testing turnaround times has failed to meet a target of 100% results within 24 hours set by the PM, and its contact tracing rate has fallen to record lows in recent weeks.
Harding made a strong defence of the service, saying it had been started from scratch...