The scary chaotic privatised Covid-19 national survey and me

The ONS survey promises they could not fulfill

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.

Rhe survey organisation must have been going wrong – they sent out this standardised apology to me and plenty of others.

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.

Even after we got the invalidated result they still sent us the wrong result ( Note they spelt our surname wrong

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.

19 thoughts on “The scary chaotic privatised Covid-19 national survey and me

  1. that is shocking David your wife missed her appointment unnecessarily. thankyou for telling us about this it is scandalous if this comes through my door It will go straight in the bin. we have enough on our plates at the mo without dodgy covid tests adding to it as well. Keep safe both of you.


  2. I get regular work offered from ICQVIA, never follow thro. I am a retired nurse, but have volunteered for quite a few postings. All random in their formats for applying, rarely any feedback. What I call Shakespeare syndrome, seen to be doing, doing nothing Vetting for us is time consuming, govt and various bodies(such as nmc, should be corrulating control of all this. Many folk being hired without any healthcare experience etc etc. Nightmare.


  3. so it begins……how long until ‘mandatory’…? and i’ve seen people sending the self swab things back in the post, no sample taken……and it comes back +ve….? think about it…..


  4. What an absolute shambles David ….and your experience is just one example of a very expensive, chaotic & quite frankly useless operation. What on earth has happened to our country? Why on earth have we ended up with the most incompetent govt in history? Hope you & your wife are OK & that the vouchers arrive without a hitch 🙄🙄🙄


  5. Appalling!! How can they call this research? Who authorised it? Who is backing it and what is their purpose? What do they intend to do with the Inevitable totally Skewed data as result at least of their own total incompetence! I do hope no tax payers money is found to have gone into this!


  6. We did our last swab test on 21st Feb and to date no vouchers even though we have phoned and spoken to the 0800 number they give you to ring.My husband had been told to wait another 21 days to receive missing vouchers,if not in possession of them by then he is considering taking them to small claims court.


  7. The survey has now changed the blood testing method to a kit whereby you have to prick a fingertip and bleed about 10 ml of blood into a tube.While you ate doing this, a survey worker waits outside you house but cannot enter.
    We tried to manipulate this and the tube is far too narrow. Also I caused my finger to bruise and could not get the blood into the tube. It hurt for approx 3 days afterwards.
    We have opted out of the study and think the new blood sampling method is potentially dangerous. We have emailed the Study Director hoping for a personal response but have only had 2 phone calls from a junior person apologising for any inconvenience. Where is the Director and who is he/she?


    • Yes totally understand your concerns. I tried the blood test and found it impossible to get it into the tube. The survey worker told me that they are going to redesign it. They require your consent to agree to a blood test and you can continue to remain with the survey but not take a blood test. I hope they made this clear to you – the blood test is not compulsory. If they didn’t send you a consent form they can’t expect you to give a blood test and even if you consented you can opt out of the blood test as well.


      • Yes they made all of this clear. However, if people opt out of the new blood-sampling method and only continue with swab tests, the survey is going to suffer and the sample size could be jeopardised. I have expressed all my concerns to the Survey Director but still have not had the courtesy of a response. This gives me the impression that they don’t really care.


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