The Great Covid Testing & Certification Scandal

  1. The tip of the iceberg

Anoosh Chakelian has a story up at the New Statesman about a somewhat shadowy firm 001 Doctor, which is offering what looks to be a very substandard testing service for people returning from abroad, and about the links between the GP providing this service and another company, PushDr:

PushDr has links to the current Health Secretary, Matt Hancock. The minister for health innovation from January 2019 to February 2020, the Conservative peer Nicola Blackwood, is a former paid adviser to PushDr, and also served as minister for public health and innovation in 2016–17 when she was a Tory MP.

But what is more interesting than this somewhat tenuous link between Hancock and just one of the 830 or so providers accredited with Hancock’s Department for this service, is who’s doing the accrediting. A DHSC spokesman responds to the New Statesman thus:

Tests and providers are both rigorously reviewed by the independent United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) and the list of private test suppliers is continually updated to ensure that the providers listed meet the required standards.

This is true, as far as it goes. But what’s left aside is that UKAS only become the accreditation body after that duty was removed, by secondary legislation quietly tabled in November 2020, from the Care Quality Commission, which under the provisions of Section ?? of the NHS Act 2006, is responsible for quality assuring all health related testing and laboratory services.

I covered this sneaky legal manouevre, and the motivations for it, in detail back in January, but what it boils down to is this: from the Autumn onwards the government has been creating the legal space, beyond normal NHS and public health purview, for the creation of a new market for get-rich-quick testing providers, of whom 001 Doctor may be amongst the most unscrupulous, but are just one of many.

The New Statesman piece reveals just the tip of gte iceberg.

2. Below the surface

Actually, to get a first sense of what’s really going on, you don’t have to look too far below the surface at all, because the government’s told us.

This is from the government’s February Covid ‘exit strategy’ document:

The “regulatory framework” in para. 163 is exactly what we’ve talking about@: the excision from normal clinical assurance processes under the NHS Act and the creation of a new cartel of providers, who “self-assure” their capacity to practice properly at the first stage of the accreditation system; it;s that excision that allows firms like 001 Doctor to get established and up and running, because CQC approval would likely have found them out.

But this isn’t just about testing people on return from abroad. look carefully, and you’ll find a different list of not 830 providers, but about 750 providers (though with a lot of providers appearing in both, including 001 Doctor) who have been accredited, through a similar process beyond CQC oversight to provide domestic testing services.

First things first. I should make clear that many of the organizations on both list are perfectly credible and respectable ones, who were already operating under CQC and who, against their will, have been forced through this new accreditation process, in order to stay legal.

But there are others in the lists, who have smelt the money, seen how the new accreditation process is designed for them, and are now getting in on the act.

Because we’re talking about big money. This isn’t just about making money from testing of people returning from abroad, but about what the government has cleverly but cynically called, its ‘vaccine passport’ plans, and that’s a whole scale bigger.

So when the government tells us in a government communication that it’s going to build an “effective private market” for a “future”, and has changed the law to make it happen, perhaps we should take it seriously, and ask how long that testing future that might lost.

And when in the very next paragraph the government tells s that the roll out of mas testing in schools is not, as we might have thought, primarily about suppressing virus transmission in school settings, but is actually part of the attempt to “prime” this private sector testing programme, perhaps it’s time to wonder about the overall motivations for this strategy.

3. The Great Cover Up

One motivation for the mass testing strategy now documented by government as its key way forward is, then, to create a cash cow for a number of favoured firms. The legal changes, the school testing regime and now the the free rapid testing kits — the procurement process for which will come into question soon enough, if the track records is anything to judge by — all seem to attest to this.

I do not, though, think that creating this cash cow is the primary motivation. I think the primary motivation for the impositions, excesses and continued disease that we’re all going to have to endure over the months and year to come is The Great Cover up.

The Great Cover Up operation goes something like this.

We are now, post second wave and with vaccination going well, getting back down to virus levels where a properly implemented tracing and isolation programme should be able to suppress the virus over the summer, and keep it suppressed, without any need for mass testing.

For evidence of that, we can look to Victoria in Australia.

As you can see from the graph (logscale), on August 2020 The State of Victoria, with a population about one tenth of the UK’s, recorded just 316 cases less than were recorded in the UK.

Things were bad. But after a sharp lockdown (and some will argue that it went on too long), Victoria has suppressed the virus almost completely, using rapid tracing and isolation techniques alone [1].

This could happen in the UK too, given where we are now. But doing that would require tearing up the current trace and isolation programme, in as much that title might be warranted at all. And that is what the government is desperate to avoid at all costs, because it would lead to the exposure of quite how awful the Harding-led operation has been.

The deception to date has, in its own way, been quite masterful, though the medias’s and the opposition parties’ failure to do any proper scrutiny has helped them. I’ve already covered the main mechanics of how it’s been done, so will content myself here with the two main features.

First, a quiet change of self-made rule about what “reached” meant allowed the government to claim a headline figure, rehearsed and recited by Hancock, that almost everyone who needed to be told to isolate was being told so.

But this essentially a lie. It depends on the rule change which from November, allowed the private firms retained by the Harding operation to claim they’re “reached” people and offered the isolation support reuired by law, when in fact that just didn’t happen. Here’s that rule change as it appears the small print of the weekly tables:

Second, the government pretended that, when it came to contacts tracked beyond the household, the system was doing well. That was enough to take in the Tony Blair Institute (TBI) who reported approvingly on the time taken to reach the “median contact”:

But the problem here, apparent in the link provided by TBI but clearly unexplored by it, is that the NHS Test & Trace programme actually “reached” a median average of two people, which is roughly equivalent to the median number of people in a household. that, as we’ve just seen, weren’t actually “reached” at all, unless you interpret “reached” as “vaguely assumed but not actually not even compliant Schedule 21 of the Coronavirus Act 2020”. As the NHS test & Trace statistical report says:

For HPT, contacting about 15 times as many people per case as Serco & Sitel and other supply chain firms, read Health Protection Teams, run by the public sector, because they are charged with the more complicated cases at the initial triage point.

So yes, in summary, we have a multi-million pound system that in the vast majority of cases only traces people in the same household as the person testing positive, and then doesn’t actually speak to them about whether they can or will isolate! It’s really that simple.

Imagine how different it might all have been if all cases had been managed on the assumption that there might be 30 people to trace per case, as became best practice in Australia, rather than on the basis that most would just be assumed to be household transmission risk only, and that the person who was positive (and often ill) could be relied on to ensure all household self-isolation.

And if you can imagine that, you’re in a position to conclude both how colossally pointless much of the privately run Test & Trace service has been, and how important it is for the government to keep on concealing this fact, when doing it well could have saved so many lives.

4. The impact

So because the whole sham would be exposed by the creation of an effective system — necessarily run in partnership with local authorities and with each case receiving extensive attention — the government has decided to put all its eggs in the mass testing basket, and to quietly run down what is left of the tracing operation [2]. The fact that this coincides nicely with the profit aspirations of the testing firms and the rapid test supply chain [3] is an added incentive.

What we, the general public, get in return is as follows.

a) We get a Covid certification system which comes with a raft of legal and ethical complications, as set out recently by Big Brother Watch in some detail.

b) We get a Covid certification scheme which invades all our everyday lives in a way that targeted tracing and isolation, proportionate the the health risk do not.

c) We get the risk of slippage in the Covid certification over months, as businesses ordered by law to maintain the systems start to relax the rules, but with no tracing and isolation service to back up.

d) Perhaps worst of all we get a profit-oriented private market delivering the system for whom the continued prevalence of Covid in the country is actually a good thing, because it sustains that profit, when we could have (as in the State of Victoria) a trace and isolation service ready to respond within hours to cases, and which keeps incidence negligible.

5. Where’s the opposition?

you might hope that in the face of this kind of evidence of the government's motivations, and of the likely social and public health consequences of a shift to Covid certification as sole strategy for virus containment, that Labour might be speaking out against the proposals, and in favour of proper tracing systems.

Sadly, this does seem to be the case, at least if this report is true. Rather Labour appears to have fallen hook, line and sinker for the government Covid certification sales strategy, which has been first to make ‘vaccine passports’ the headline, knowing that reliance on vaccination proof solely for admission to venues etc is totally unacceptable to anybody, and then pretend that the certification strategy (whether or not this includes vaccination evidence) is a suitable compromise.

So we end up with the possibility of Labour supporting a scheme which is an active part of the cover up for the biggest government scam of the whole Covid period, which is illiberal in the extreme, to which a much better public health alternative is already proven, and will go on as long as the government’s favoured firms can make money from it, whether this be from the public purse or in time, via payment demands for tests.

As such there is a real scenario whereby, come Christmas, with Covid still bubbling along after the third wave, and with people still subject to Covid certification even thoubh the government now says that, to balance the books, people will start to have to pay for tests, the the Tory government can turn round in parliament an say to Labour: “but you voted for this.

Labour needs to wake up quickly to the scandal, hidden in plain view, and act as an opposition.

Notes

[1] The State of Victoria own’s inquiry into how the public health authoritieis coped with the first wave is instructive for the fact that it found some problems with tracing and isolation, in terms of speed of response. The difference with the UK is that the State government acted on the findings.

[2] I am not an investigative journalist, but my hunch is that some of the financial interests are linked to the choice of tests imported. It is interesting to note, for example, that while Switzerland has approved twelve different tests for use, seemingly in an effort to keep up with fast moving technological developments and quality improvements, the UK still relied on just two, as of mid-February. (Source: European Commission)

[3] I should stress that I am not opposed to rapid testing in all cases. Deployment in specific areas for a specified period, for example to trace for variants imported, may well be useful. But to use them as the sole method of control us negligent.

Secretary General, Habermasian Labour (UK). Indefatigably focused on the promotion of ethical discourse in the public sphere, except when there's cricket.