Serco confirm Test centre workers are on “super-spreader contracts”

Serco CEO Rupert Soames responds to a letter from Bell Ribeiro-Addy and the Safe and Equal campaign confirming Test Centre workers only get SSP if they need to isolate.

Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP House of Commons London, SW1A 0AA
By email: Your Ref: BRA/AD/008
Dear Ms Ribeiro-Addy,

Thank you for your letter regarding the contractual arrangements for people employed by Serco who are supporting NHS Test & Trace.

I can confirm that no Serco employees who are working with NHS Test & Trace are employed on zero-hour contracts. If they report that they are sick or are required to self-isolate and cannot work from home, they would receive Statutory Sick Pay and would have access to the £500 Covid-19 payment for families on low income if they met the criteria.

Furthermore, it is worth noting that 100% of Serco employees who are supporting the tracing elements of NHS Test & Trace are now homeworking. Therefore, if they are asked to self-isolate because they are identified as a close contact of someone who has tested positive, but display no symptoms themselves, they have the ability to continue working. Of course, we would never expect anyone who is ill to continue working, regardless of whether they could work from home or not.

As you may know, Serco has also worked with a number of Small and Medium Enterprises to give them the opportunity to contribute to the national effort to support NHS Test & Trace with regards to tracing, as well as with some agencies in regards to testing. These organisations may have different contracts with their colleagues; however, they are required to meet all employment regulations.

We are extremely grateful to all of our frontline colleagues who are supporting public services during the pandemic, including the contact tracers working with NHS Test & Trace. That is why we announced a one-off ex-gratia payment to around 50,000 of our front-line colleagues at the end of last year.

I thought I would also take this opportunity to try my best to set out some information related both to the performance of the system and Serco’s involvement in it, on the grounds that NHS Test & Trace is a vital part of our country’s strategy for combating this dreadful disease and it is important that lawmakers such as yourself know the facts.
Key facts: –
• NHS Test & Trace in England is now the largest test programme in Europe. As at 18 February (latest
data available), over 77m tests have been administered since the end of March 2020. At the current
run-rate, the number of tests the UK is delivering per 1,000 people is around 68% more than France, 356% more than Germany, 88% more than Italy, 89% more than Spain every week. To have created
the capacity to process this volume of tests in six months is by any measure a significant achievement.
• 98.2% of people tested in Regional, Local or Mobile test sites receive their results within 48 hours of their test.
• The capacity of the Testing System has expanded hugely since late August 2020; under the distributed test sites (Pillar 2), the number of people tested per week has increased from 628,000 to around 2.5m per week – an increase of almost 300%. At the same time, the proportion of people testing positive under Pillar 2 has increased from 1% to circa 3% (peaking at over 17%), so the absolute number of people testing positive has increased massively – from 11,000 in the last week in August 2020 to over 86,000 (343,000 at the peak at the end of last year).
• This growth in positive tests has produced a proportionate increase in the number of contacts identified each week – from 33,000 to over 191,000 (737,000 at a peak earlier in January). That is the equivalent to more than 2 capacity crowds at Wembley that need to be contacted each week.
• In respect of tracing, we are proud with what we have achieved and believe we have performed to the Government’s satisfaction. At the Government’s request, we mobilised 10,000 call handlers in around 4 weeks in May, and we have consistently reached over 90% of the contacts our call handlers are given contact details for. What is more, more recent changes to how we reach people who live in the same house mean that the whole system is now officially reaching 93.6% of close contacts. These changes were made not only to ensure a more accurate picture of the system, but also to address the criticisms that households were receiving multiple calls from tracers. Now, where appropriate, a tracer will only need to speak to one member of the household. This brings the system more closely into line with the approach used by the Welsh Government. In Scotland, there is no requirement for a person to be spoken to, only for an SMS text message to be sent to them, for an individual to count as being traced.
• A recent NAO report indicates that the service was under-utilised in its early days, but as the rate of testing, number of positive cases, and consequent number of close contacts rose, utilisation increased. The capacity requirements of the system were modelled by DHSC and we met the targets set out by the Department to provide call handlers from the outset. Much like the NHS Nightingale hospitals, this extra volume was there if and when it was needed.
I apologise for bombarding you with so many numbers, but I strongly feel that the achievements of the people who have set up NHS Test & Trace have been under-recognised, and people are unaware how large the system is.
• Some people have started to draw a picture of NHS Test & Trace being run by the private sector – some go as far as to call it “Serco Test and Trace”. Nothing could be further from the truth. As is evidenced by the National Audit Office’s recent NHS Test & Trace report, of the £22bn which is set to be spent on the service, Serco contracts account for around 1.5%. The NAO report also confirms that the support offered to local authorities exceeds the value of any contract with Serco and the largest of the 217 external NHS Test & Trace contracts have been with public bodies, such as the Office for National Statistics (ONS), or medical companies providing testing. The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) runs NHS Test & Trace and we are proud to play a small part in the process, being one of four companies organising the distributed test centres used by Pillar 2, and one of two responsible for providing call handlers who reach out to the contacts of people who have tested positive once their details have been gathered by the tracers, the vast majority of whom are employed by NHS Professionals. We don’t run the systems, manage the laboratories, write the software or the app, manage the logistics or deliver results. There are tens of thousands of people, from DHSC, NHS, PHE, Universities, the Armed Forces, and the private sector who, together, and under the leadership of DHSC, have built what is the largest test & tracing system in Europe, and for some people to suggest that this
is just a feast for rapacious outsourcers is untrue, insulting to the many public servants who have worked so hard on it, and trivialises the achievements and hard work of thousands of people.
I would be delighted to fix a call to discuss any of this in more detail. Please do not hesitate to email me at It is vital for the country that NHS Test & Trace succeeds, and nobody would claim that it is error free or without its difficulties. But equally, criticism should, I suggest, recognise the huge achievement of the tens of thousands of people – scientists, planners, logisticians, administrators, software engineers, call handlers – who have worked incredibly hard to deliver NHS Test & Trace thus far, and recognise that their commitment and achievement is none the less worthy depending on whether their payslip comes from the Government or from a private company.
Yours sincerely,
Rupert Soames OBE
Chief Executive Serco Group plc

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