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7 October 2020

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Massive testing 'glitch' caused by privatised fragmentation

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Amnon, computer programmer, North London Socialist Party

Public Health England mislaid 15,841 positive Covid-19 results that needed reporting and contact tracing, due to what Tory ministers described as a "glitch."

Reportedly, the thousands of missing entries were due to lab results being fed into Excel spreadsheets - and overflowing the maximum number of rows allowed.

For a whole week, new case numbers were reported at around 7,000 per day, while thousands of extra cases beyond the software's row limit were silently truncated. Incredibly, the government has announced that the problem has been solved by increasing the number of spreadsheets involved.

The use of Excel spreadsheets for a mission-critical system is the IT equivalent of building it out of elastic bands and duct tape. A properly engineered solution would have the testing machines feed their results directly into the NHS database.

Standard, free, open-source databases such as MySql or Postgres routinely handle millions of rows, can be updated from multiple locations simultaneously, and can be read by multiple people simultaneously. This is not rocket science, it is standard IT practice. This is how NHS hospitals process 800 million biochemistry and haematology samples per year.

But the privatisation of testing - outsourced to companies such as Deloitte, Serco, Sodexo and G4S - created a fragmentation of incompatible systems. The tried and tested public systems were bypassed. The seams are held together with 'CSV' files and Excel spreadsheets.

This system is run in the interests of the profiteers. It is incapable of testing the required numbers, incapable of providing the results in a timely manner, and incapable of delivering them to patients, GPs and contact tracers.

The "glitch" has meant that tens of thousands of coronavirus contacts were not reached and told to isolate before they had the chance to spread the virus to many more people. This latest debacle illustrates the ineptitude of the capitalist market, and the need for a socialist system organised for public health, not private profit.

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In The Socialist 7 October 2020:

Coronavirus news

Tories put profit first: Gambling with our jobs and lives

Massive testing 'glitch' caused by privatised fragmentation

Contact tracer speaks out: privatised system 'in chaos'

Under the microscope

Workplace news

Unison: Hugo Pierre's fighting programme to transform the union

Equity 'Panto Parade' demands more support for arts workers

Tate strike suspended

Ikea day of action

York couriers' strike


Fight for jobs and homes for all - defend the right to asylum

Spooks step up surveillance of left

Probation Service: 'angry, frustrated' staff need fighting lead


Cardiff student protest demands: 'refund our fees!'

Southampton students oppose unjust collective punishment

Black History Month

Non-fiction: 'Why I no longer talk to white people about race'


Worldwide capitalist crisis deepens - step up the fight for socialism

'Frozen conflict' reignites in Nagorno-Karabakh enclave

Germany: "Heroes" strike to demand a pay rise


£9,000 for education by Netflix

Free Siyanda Mngaza

Leicester: Don't let them close our hospital

Waltham Forest: Council picks over 60 sites for mass gentrification

Say no to finance capital-backed luxury tower block in Enfield

Socialist Party: Campaigning for the NHS

Final total: £73,586 raised - now let's do it again

Defend Bracknell Community Services

Readers' opinion

Film: 'Sick' - 'They've got people looking in the wrong direction'

The Socialist Inbox


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Article dated 7 October 2020

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