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Thu, 1 October 2020

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The Breakfast Briefing: NHS bosses demand details on Boris Johnson’s contact tracing vow PLUS how the PM’s lockdown thinking evolved

The Breakfast Briefing: NHS bosses demand details on Boris Johnson’s contact tracing vow PLUS how the PM’s lockdown thinking evolved

Boris Johnson has vowed to get contact tracing up and running by June 1

4 min read

Your morning guide to what’s moving in Westminster from PoliticsHome acting editor Matt Honeycombe-Foster. Sign up below to get the briefing in your inbox every morning

Boris Johnson pushed back hard at Keir Starmer yesterday with a vow to get a “world-beating” contact tracing system up and running by 1 June, and a fresh figure on 24,000 tracers recruited to boot.
 
As a bigger-than-expected crowd of Conservative MPs cheered their boss on, the Prime Minister took aim at Sir Keir’s “slightly negative” tone,  and accused the Labour leader of “feigned ignorance” on the ins-and-outs of the UK’s contact tracing programme.
 
But Sir Keir isn’t the only one demanding to see the details of how the programme, originally earmarked for a “mid-May” launch, is going to work out in practice.
 
This morning NHS Confederation, which represents hospital bosses, has written to Matt Hancock to point out that, days away from that planned roll-out, its members still “await further details”.
 
Cautioning that “time is running out” to get the system going, chief executive Niall Dickson is demanding “a strategy with a clear implementation plan ahead of any further easing of the lockdown“.
 
And, in a stark warning about a potential second wave, he adds: “These health leaders have warned us that this is a matter of protecting the NHS: if we do not rapidly instigate the right system, involving the right people, then the ramifications for the NHS, including its staff and its patients, could be severe. We are concerned that they are not yet reassured that this is in place.”

The Government has made extensive use of big, bold targets and deadlines as it responds to the pandemic

It’s a message shared by the National Education Union, which has long argued that the Government’s phased schools reopening plan is a non-starter without track and trace ready to roll.  Reacting to the June 1 pledge, joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said: “We have received no private assurances on this matter and we would like to see the contact tracing actually in place before schools do start adding to the R rate.”
 
The Government has made extensive use of big, bold targets and deadlines as it responds to the pandemic. With a record 177,216 daily Covid-19 tests carried out on last night’s figures, Matt Hancock can fairly claim that his vow to get to 100,000 tests-a-day has had the “galvanising” effect on the machine that he promised. 25,000 human contact tracers in place by June also seems likely on the current recruitment levels after a dramatic surge in the past few weeks, even if the NHSX app they were supposed to support looks to have slipped significantly.
 
But, with just eleven days to go until the start of June, it’s clear that there’s plenty more to do to turn a snappy PMQs rejoinder into a workable bit of public policy.
 
By the way, if you’re looking for a great read to sink your teeth into this morning, my House Live colleague Sebastian Whale has a typically insightful piece on the evolution of Boris Johnson during the Covid-19 pandemic. Speaking to MPs and those who’ve worked closely with Johnson, Seb charts the PM’s shift from a laissez-fair liberal on lockdown to one “sobered by his own brush with death”.
 
As former Boris staffer Victoria Borwick tells Seb: “He’ll want to unleash the power of the people again, because he will understand that some people are straining at the leash to go out and do things. He will want to enable people to do that. But, of course, that will be tempered by the fact he now knows what a terrible virus this is.” Do you self a favour: grab a coffee, switch off Twitter for a bit, and get reading.


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