Months after stepping down as head of the UK government’s much-derided Covid-19 contact tracing programme, Dido Harding has once again drawn public ire after news emerged of her pursuit of the top job at NHS England.
The health service’s website confirmed on Thursday that Harding has left her position as chair of NHS Improvement – the body overseeing its hospital trusts – during the recruitment process for the next NHS CEO. She had held that position since October 2017.
Her time at the helm of ‘Test and Trace’ (T&T) was highlighted by poor performance with a Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report noting in March that the programme did not make a “measurable difference” in Covid-19 transmission despite its “unimaginable” £37billion budget.
In its report, the PAC accused Downing Street of treating British taxpayers “like an ATM machine” while over-relying on high-paid consultants, failing to prepare for surging demand for tests and not fulfilling the programme’s justification of avoiding future lockdowns.
Over the past year, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has faced repeated calls to sack Harding over the failure of what was intended as a “world-beating” system, but which was dubbed by a former Treasury official as the “most wasteful and inept public spending programme of all time.
Tellingly, a Downing Street spokesman refused to comment or endorse Harding when asked earlier this month about her intention to apply for the top job. Harding also defended her record, claiming the main issue with the service was that “expectations were set too high.”
In her first post-T&T interview with BBC Radio 4, Harding said the UK’s Covid-19 testing programme was “the envy of the world” but cautioned that “testing and tracing and isolating” was only one aspect of the response and not a “silver bullet” to return things to normal.