The government has filled just 8% of the contract tracer roles it had hoped to have in place by the middle of May, a minister has admitted.
Just 1,500 of the 18,000 contract tracers health secretary Matt Hancock had hoped to employ by this point are in post, Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis told Sky News today, although around 15,000 applications had been received.
Lewis later clarified that the 1,500 figure was from earlier this week, and that the numbers of people hired would have likely increased since then.
The contract tracers, who would be responsible for identifying who had been infected by the coronavirus and informing those they had come into contact with so they could begin self-isolating, are expected to play a key role in tracking and tracing the spread of the virus as lockdown restrictions are eased.
Their role will involve manually gathering information about the places infected people have visited and the people they have been in contact with to determine who might be at risk of infection.
In April, Hancock said he wanted 18,000 contract tracers in place in time for the roll out of the NHS tracing app, which is currently being trialled on the Isle of Wight.
Downing Street later clarified that the government had recruited “significantly more” people than the 1,500 Lewis had said, but has not indicated how many.
A spokesperson for the Prime Minister said: “The numbers [Brandon Lewis] had were a little behind where we are, so I think it was just from a couple of days ago.
“I don’t have a more up-to-date number but I know that we have recruited significantly more than the 1,500 he spoke about and we are on course to have the 18,000 in place next week.”
Labour MP Rachel Reeves said the scheme had been a “shambles” so far. In a letter to cabinet minister Michael Gove, written in response to reports that a contract had been awarded to professional services firm Serco to run contract tracing call centres, she notes that contract tracing is a “highly skilled” role that handles “highly sensitive” information, and questioned why roles were being advertised at “an hourly rate of less than the Living Wage”.
Govt has contracted out key parts of our coronavirus response – testing and tracing, PPE, free school meals – but it can't contract out responsibility for public health.
Govt must be more accountable for testing & PPE operations carried out by Deloitte & Serco. pic.twitter.com/wIMXjnZXRi
— Rachel Reeves (@RachelReevesMP) May 15, 2020