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Responding to COVID-19: scaling up the UK’s testing capacity
A national challenge
In March, the arrival of a global pandemic public health crisis saw the majority of the country heading into lockdown.
Meanwhile, along with forty public and private sector companies, a large and varied team from Deloitte rapidly stepped up to support the creation and expansion of testing as part of the NHS Test and Trace Programme that’s at the heart of the UK’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Within six months the NHS Test and Trace Programme had 30,000 people working for it, with 75 drive through test sites and 118 walk through test sites operational across the country, and over 16 million tests had been delivered with a longer term objective to significantly scale that up further. The UK conducted more tests per capita than the majority of European countries.
“We are incredibly proud of the role that all of our people have played in supporting the creation of the testing programme and the results achieved. One of our clients described it as having to build an organisation the size of the BBC, from scratch, in just a matter of days,” said Sara Siegel, Deloitte’s UK head of healthcare.
The right skills
Many people from across Deloitte were involved in projects supporting the testing programme, people with expertise in major government projects, digital, supply chains, logistics, real estate, procurement and project management.
“There were eyebrows raised and questions asked about why an ‘accountancy firm’ was involved,” said Jayson Hadley, Deloitte’s UK public sector leader.
“There is a huge infrastructure of technology, logistics and planning to deliver everything that is required.”
“That’s where Deloitte comes in. The breadth and scale of expertise we were able to bring to the challenge quickly has been crucial to the success of the behind-the-scenes operation.”
At the centre of this mix of expertise are our digital skills. “The booking system was designed, built and live within three weeks” said Deloitte Digital partner Joel Bellman “and now handles more orders per day than most major retailers.”
“The digital systems have to link up with every other part of the programme – the public, the courier firms who deliver kits, the testing sites, the labs who process the tests, the parts of the NHS that report your result back to you and on to other parts of the NHS.”
Location, location, location
The expertise of Deloitte’s real estate professionals was a vital part of the operation, with factors such as size, accessibility and the length of time the site would be available for important considerations in decisions on where to locate testing sites.
Once locations were identified, our team supported discussions with landlords, local authorities and NHS bodies to help select the best sites and get these approved and ready.
Once sites were identified and secured, they needed a workforce with the right training and a supply of equipment and technology. Here our specialists in operational and infrastructure design stepped in.
Then, with a site secured, staffed and stocked, they were transitioned over to facilities management companies to manage the day-to-day operations from there.
In all, within 37 days of Deloitte’s appointment to support the testing programme, 50 test sites had been mobilised.
Private v Public
The role of the private sector in public services always drives debate and discussion. But, as the government has acknowledged, part of the success of the NHS Test and Trace Programme to date has been the powerful partnership between businesses and government.
Each has a vital role to play in what is a complex and critically important programme. Alongside Deloitte and the NHS, numerous private sector businesses have played a key role, as have the military and pharmaceuticals industry.
The road ahead
“Testing is going to remain a regular feature of day-to-day life for some time to come” added Sara.
“The basis of a more prevalent testing regime is now in place and, while there have of course been challenges – there always will be with something this complex and unprecedented – the UK is well positioned to make testing central to the economic and public health recovery. We’re proud to have played a part in supporting the national response.”