NHS Test and Trace: Creating our ‘national defence’ in the fight against COVID

In direct response to the growing coronavirus pandemic in the UK, NHS Test and Trace was launched on 28 May 2020. The health of the nation was dependent on having an effective contact tracing system to help prevent the spread of the virus.

Yet, as we continue along Boris’ roadmap to freedom, it is evident that Test and Trace will continue to play a huge part in our ‘national defence’ against the virus with the government claiming it is ‘an essential component in the fight against COVID’.

Simon Lipscomb, Sales and Marketing Director at Efficio, the world’s largest procurement consultancy spoke with Jacqui Rock, Chief Commercial Officer at NHS Test and Trace Programme about her experience building an organisation from the ground up, that has since grown to 50,000 people strong.

Responding to a crisis

With just four months to build an organisation similar in both size and complexity to Sainsbury’s, there were bound to be significant hurdles. “An operating model was put in place within two weeks – under normal circumstances, this typically takes a year, but it shows how quickly you can accomplish the unimaginable in a crisis. NHS Test and Trace evolved from a crisis response unit to an organisation with plans, strategy, and structure,” said Rock.

“By having clear structure, governance, and buying strategies in place, rapidly scaling organisations can utilise the markets to achieve shorter procurement timescales whilst maximising the benefits of this new category structure,” added Lipscomb.

Adapting to ongoing change

Test and Trace’s mission is like hitting a moving target, in which the scope changes daily and there is an urgency with everything. “It’s not just a government response – every supplier needs to be engaged and have good contracts, everything needs to be bought, and the contracts are vital so that everyone understands their individual roles.” continued Rock.

“It’s important to have a handful of key commitments from suppliers and customers during any disruption, and businesses need to update contractual frameworks for such events. A joint approach with key suppliers help to establish a more reliable supply chain and improve strategic partnerships. Another key aspect is to evaluate logistic set-up and treat logistics providers as partners in order to secure capacity and evaluate different routes to get the products to customers,” continued Lipscomb.

The journey continues

The UK’s vaccination programme has been a global front runner. NHS Test and Trace has continued to reach a high volume of cases and contacts and, with improving turnaround times for tests, the service has seen a record-breaking start to 2021.  The recent addition of the NHS Test and Trace Public Advisory Group, which brings together 100 people from different backgrounds to consider issues that people in England will face as the country recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, highlights the continued evolution of this service.

“We have come a long way and are very clear on what our road map for the next eight months looks like. We will continue to harness subject matter expertise, enhance supplier relationships, and drive delivery at speed and with scale,” said Rock.

“Developing good strategic supplier relationships and implementing a joint approach is fundamental to the future of procurement,” said Lipscomb. “We’ve seen what can be achieved in a short space of time via NHS Test and Trace, and it has highlighted the importance of taking a proactive approach to supplier management. This has been an unprecedented situation, and the pace and innovation has been unlike anything seen before; but the collaboration has been phenomenal, and it has shone a light on a new way of doing procurement.

“Moving forwards, organisations need to build stronger, more resilient supply chains. Digital transformation will also be key to drive more effective procurement and continue to improve supplier management and engagement,” concluded Lipscomb.