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TUC: Don’t repeat mistakes of Test and Trace by outsourcing Covid-19 vaccine programme

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The TUC has today (Thursday) warned the government against repeating the mistakes of Test and Trace by outsourcing the Covid-19 vaccine programme.

The union body says ministers must learn the lessons from the failures of Test and Trace and PPE provision by ensuring the design and delivery of the vaccination programme is led by public health professionals not private contractors.

The TUC has today published a five-step plan the government should take to ensure effective distribution and take-up of the vaccine:

  1. Empower local public health teams to take the lead: Local directors of public health must be given a central role in co-ordinating the vaccination programme and not be “marginalised” like under Test and Trace, says the TUC.

Local public health teams have consistently proven more effective at outreach than the centralised Test and Trace system – with contact rates of over 90% compared to 60% for services run by Serco. But they have been forced to make do with small and piecemeal amounts of money in comparison to the billions handed to Serco.

With the vaccine likely to require significant outreach work at community level, local public health teams must be given the funding they need to run large-scale vaccination programmes.

  1. Improve supply chains: The NHS’s fragmented and privatised supply chains massively slowed down the supply of PPE to frontline staff during the first wave of the crisis.

To avoid similar delays with the supply of the vaccine ministers should look at using public fleets as appropriate.

  1. Trained healthcare staff should administer the vaccine: The effectiveness of Test and Trace has been hugely undermined by private companies drafting in non-healthcare staff with minimal training, says the TUC.

The union body says any expansion in staff able to administer vaccines should be overseen and organised by NHS organisations or local authorities.

Training non-health workers to give vaccines should be only a last resort, with options such as bringing health workers back from retirement considered first.

  1. Persuade and support people to get the vaccine: Compliance with the vaccination programme should be achieved through persuasion not compulsion, says the TUC.

Getting vaccinated must not be made a condition of employment or access to public services.

And staff should be given paid time-off to get vaccinated.

  1. Build public trust: A high level of engagement and compliance will be essential for the vaccination programme to be successful.

Trust and confidence in the vaccination system is most likely to be maximised by a system designed and led by public health professionals.

Public health experts should lead on communications around vaccination roll out and the impact. This will help avoid the politicisation of announcements and ensure that public expectations are realistic. And there should be transparency and a public discussion about who is prioritised for the vaccine.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“We all have a shared interest in getting the vaccine programme right. It’s our only shot at getting life back to normal. But that means learning the lessons from the failures of Test and Trace and PPE provision.

“The best way to deliver an effective rollout – and build public trust in the vaccine – is for local public health teams to run it. They know their communities best and are best placed to reach them.

“Outsourcing Test and Trace to private contractors has caused huge problems. We cannot afford the same mistake to be made with the delivery of the vaccine.”

On the need to provide persuasion and support, Frances O’Grady added:

“The Test and Trace programme has not supported people to do the right thing. People are still not being given the level of sick pay they need to self-isolate and are then hit with large fines for not complying.

“We need a sea-change of approach when it comes to the vaccine.

“People need to be persuaded, not forced into taking it. Allowing workers paid-time off to get vaccinated will help make things easier.”

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