NHS Test and Trace is still employing 900 consultants on an average rate of £1,000 per day, it has emerged, as the Conservative peer in charge of the programme insisted it was now having a “material impact” on tackling the pandemic. Insisting that the £22bn programme had now turned a corner, Baroness Harding on Monday argued that it was “appropriate” to call on external expertise in “extreme emergency circumstances.” Appearing before the Commons public accounts committee, she told MPs that it was now performing “substantially better” than the targets it was initially set by the Government’s scientific advisory group. More than 7.5 million people had been tested in the first two weeks of January, while 1 million people had been reached by contact tracers in the first seven days of the year, she added. It came as the latest daily coronavirus data showed that the UK now has a testing capacity of 806,417 a day, with more than 417,000 conducted on Sunday. However, Baroness Harding came under pressure over the staggering costs associated with the programme, as health officials at the hearing revealed that 900 consultants from the firm Deloitte were still “on the books” on an average four-figure day rate. The figure is down by approximately 100 since October, with MPs stating that, as recently as November, there 2,300 consultants and contractors working on the scheme. Asked how this could be considered value for money, David Williams, the second permanent secretary of the Department for Health, insisted the programme would not have been able to deliver its current output without the support of a range of external consultants.