Inside story of how the government can’t even organise a Covid- 19 survey let alone sort out the pandemic
Much has been said of the government’s expensive muddle and mishandling of the Covid -19 pandemic where millions if not billions of taxpayer’s cash has gone down the drain. Contracts have gone to the Vote Leave chumocracy, apps have failed, people have unnecessarily died in care homes and it has been bonanza time for private firms.
What has been missed is that while all this is happening the Department for Health through the Office for National Statistics and Oxford University have undertaken a randomised survey of 220,000 people to find out about the spread of Covid -19.
This is not just a once off questionnaire but those taking part in each household can opt to participate for a year. For the first month they are swabbed once a week and then monthly. The aim is to provide the government with a detailed picture of the pandemic’s progress and once approved the effectiveness of any new vaccines.
The scheme has been branded with trustworthy names – who would object to helping researchers at Oxford University or the Office for National Statistics.
Private company bonanza
But in fact the work is yet another bonanza for private companies and labs just like test and trace. What could possibly go wrong?
Well it did and this blog is my personal experience and my wife Margaret’s experience.
It started with a package being posted through our front door.
We were invited to ring a free number to sign up. Then within a week you would have an appointment. A pleasant socially distanced study worker would turn up, take your details, show you how to administer your own swab and send it off to a lab. You would get the result – if positive – within 24 to 72 hours from Public Health England. If it was negative you wouldn’t hear. You would also be eventually paid £50 in vouchers for the first visit and £25 for subsequent visits.
Sounds a doddle. It wasn’t.
First try and ring up and get an answer. I got through on the sixth attempt. And it is not to Oxford University but to IQVIA, an American multinational based in Durham, North Carolina, not Durham, England, with an income of $11.11 billion – effectively a health care data mining company. They have set up offices in the UK and guess what they are under staffed – hence the difficulty in getting through.
I was told to expect a call from NatCen, a private social research company, based in London that were in charge of appointments.
A week went by, two, three, then a month and nothing. Finally there was a knock on the door and a genial man called Kirk asked me who I was.
” We have been trying to ring you for weeks and couldn’t get you. We got someone else who was already on the programme”, he told me
The reason was simple. The mobile number they had for me was not remotely like mine – they had put in someone else’s in their records
The came the swab – straightforward. We were told if we heard nothing after 48 hours we would be in the clear.
Then SIX days later we took a call from Hertfordshire County Council. It was for my wife – we are both in our 70s – she was Covid 19 positive . She had to self isolate for another four days. I was negative but had to self isolate for another seven.
The woman didn’t seem to know why we had been tested together, didn’t know about the national survey, and then told my wife not to have another swab in case it was a false positive.
This was scary because my wife did not have ONE SYMPTOM, no temperature, no cough, nothing. But we had to quickly cancel a hospital outpatient appointment for that day and cancel a visit due the next day from a physiotherapist.
The advice from Herts County Council was contradicted the next day by another study worker pointed out that the survey required people who were positive to take another test. He was puzzled that she – given we are part of the vulnerable group susceptible to Covid 19 – had no symptoms. He could not explain why we had been contacted by Herts County Council and not Public Health England.
After scary days of waiting to see if anything developed we had another call from IQVIA. It was to tell us that Lighthouse Laboratories – the privatised mega lab consortium – set up by Medicines Discovery Catapult Ltd and UK Biocentre Ltd- who tested the swab had got it wrong. She was not positive and the test had been invalidated because the lab had used the wrong compounds to test it.
Nor were we the only ones – an entire batch – was wrong. Imagine the distress this would cause.It wasn’t the first time either. The Independent reported in September that tens of thousands of people had been cleared of Covid- 19 by the same labs when they were positive.
We now await our promised vouchers. I see they are provided by Sodexo – a private company which I remember was responsible for the hopeless failed privatisation of the probation service. They also provide child care vouchers. I wonder what they can to do to muck things up. I can’t wait.