Harding told the committee that the “balance between supply and the demand forecast” for coronavirus testing towards the end of the summer “wasn’t right”. She said:
With the benefit of hindsight, the balance between supply and the demand forecast wasn’t right, clearly that’s true.
But what you’ve also seen in the last six weeks is that we’ve met our commitments to get that supply and demand into balance.
Asked when demand could increase again, Harding said:
Armed only with my crystal ball, all of us are working so hard with experts in science, in medicine, in behavioural science to understand what may happen as we go forward.
Q: Is isolation monitoring part of your role?
Harding says it is more isolation support.
She says people are called three times during their isolation, to check they have the help they need and to remind them of their responsibilities.
Greg Clark, the science committee chair, is asking the questions again.
Q: Local teams get almost 100% of contacts to self-isolate. For national teams, it is 50 to 60%.
Harding says local teams can go and knock on people’s doors. The national teams cannot do that.
Q: Why not use local teams more?
Harding says 150 local authority teams are already working with the service. Another 150 are about to go live.
But she stresses that cases “go the other way as well”. Local authority contact tracers do send cases back to the national teams.
Harding says she visited Liverpool at the weekend. She says she thinks mass testing offers a real opportunity to identify people with the virus.
We are at the every early stages of discovering how mass testing can work, she says.
She says it offers the potential for us to get “more of our lives back”. But she says it is not a silver bullet, and she says she has never claimed it is.
Harding says the English test and trace only counts a contact as successful if someone has replied. She says the Scottish system counts a contact as successful from the moment an email is sent.
Asked about a Guardian report saying unqualified people are being asked to perform clinical roles in test and trace, Harding says this criticism is unfair.
Harding says some of the most experienced staff have been given new roles.
She says customer feedback has been very positive.
Q: What advantage is there in employing constultants in public service roles?
Harding says they built this service up very quickly. It is now the size of Asda.
She says it made sense to use expertise from all sectors – the public sector, the military, the private sector.
We stood this service up in May at extraordinary speed, we built something that’s the same size of Asda in the course of five months.
When you start something very quickly you need to pull on all the talents across all of society.
You can’t offer people permanent jobs when you don’t have a permanent organisation, so you have to employ people either as independent individual consultants or through consultancy organisations.
Q: Could you have not used civil servants?
Harding says they have used both civil servants and consultants from the private sector.
As the service becomes more permanent, proportionally more jobs are being filled by civil servants, she says.
Q: If local authorities doing the work, shouldn’t they be getting the money?
Harding says all sectors need to be involved. You cannot choose one or the other. You need all.
Q: But you are paying one sector a lot more than the other.
Harding says the service is procuring expertise professionally.
Q: Are you getting a discount?
Harding says government officials have helped determine what the service pays.
Q: How many tests are voided every day?
Harding says it ranges between 1% and 3%.
That is normally because one element of the kit has broken, or not made it through to the laboratory on time.
Harding says the system is now piloting using the new rapid flow tests to test people who have been told to self-isolate for 14 days because they have been in contact with someone testing positive.
But she says the current clinical advice remains that if someone has been in contact with someone testing positive, they should self-isolate for 14 days.
Harding told MPs that her husband, the Conservative MP John Penrose, is now having to self-isolate because he was told by the app he had been in contact with someone testing positive.
Harding told the committee that people who were not self-isolating were doing so because they could not afford not to work. She said it was not that people did not want to comply.
The majority of people are trying very hard to comply when they are asked to and when they are not it is because they might have just popped out to get some fresh air, or if they have gone anywhere they have gone to buy emergency prescriptions or food.
But, when pressed on whether people should be guaranteed full pay if asked to self-isolate by the government, she said that was a matter for the government.