EXCL: Health security agency signs £1m deal with Deloitte to help get private Covid tests to market

Consultants brought in to assess paid-for LFT providers as Omicron and supply-chain delays led to shortage of free tests
Photo: Antonio Rubio/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Deloitte is set to bank nearly £1m for three months’ work helping the UK Health Security Agency to get private Covid lateral-flow tests onto the market after a surge in demand for free tests this winter.

UKHSA – which includes NHS Test and Trace – signed a deal to pay the big-four firm £950,364 for “the provision of private market testing providers into the [lateral flow device] market” in December, after a nationwide shortage of lateral-flow devices following the emergence of the Omicron variant.

The deal runs until the end of March, and comes as Boris Johnson is expected to announce restrictions on the provision of free Covid tests as part of the government's "living with Covid" plan.

The Department for Health and Social Care has previously said it wants to “facilitate and empower a thriving private sector market for Covid-19 detection tests to supplement and support testing led by NHS Test and Trace”.

Private providers are a “key part” of the government’s long-term strategy for managing Covid-19, DHSC and UKHSA said last year in a consultation document on the validation of Covid tests sold in the UK.

CSW understands the deal, signed by UKHSA’s transformation development unit, was decided to be the quickest and most efficient way for the agency to assess private providers so they could sell tests.

At the time, the agency said “supply chain issues” were to blame for slow deliveries to pharmacies as people struggled to find tests. There were also long periods when LFTs were unavailable to order online through GOV.UK.

Deloitte is not involved in evaluating tests directly, but is assessing providers against standards produced by the government.

Minimum standards for LFT providers include having a registered medical practitioner who takes responsibility for reporting medical issues; a system for reporting positive, negative and inconclusive test results to UKHSA; and the need to meet specified performance standards.

Following last year’s consultation, DHSC introduced a legal requirement in July for all private Covid tests to undergo a desk-based review of the evidence manufacturers provide to demonstrate their performance.

Deloitte is not involved in accrediting test devices used by UKHSA and distributed through the test and trace programme, which go through a different approval process.

The contract was awarded through a central framework that government bodies can use to access management consultancy on areas such as business, strategy and policy, and health and social care.

The names and roles of Deloitte staff working on the project have been redacted from the published contract documents, which suggest there are as many as 16 consultants involved.

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