Coronavirus: Ex-Sainsbury’s boss to join beleaguered Test and Trace service as NHS chief returns to trust

Government hires businessman following widespread criticism of UK’s testing system

Conrad Duncan
Tuesday 29 September 2020 14:35 BST
Sainsbury's CEO sings 'We're in the Money' before ITV News segment about £12 billion merger with Asda

The former chief executive of Sainsbury's is set to take over as testing director at the government’s crisis-hit coronavirus contact tracing service.

Mike Coupe, who retired as chief executive of Sainsbury’s at the end of May, is set to replace Sarah-Jane Marsh, who is returning to her post as chief executive of Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust.

He will join NHS Test and Trace amid widespread criticism of the service following its difficulties with responding to a surge in demand for Covid-19 tests in recent weeks.

Baroness Dido Harding, the head of NHS Test and Trace, said in an email to staff that Mr Coupe would “bring a wealth of experience in large scale supply chains, logistics and digital transformation”.

It is understood he will be in the role until Christmas.

Mr Coupe came to national attention in 2018 when he was caught on camera singing the show tune “We’re in the Money” as he prepared to discuss a planned £12bn merger between Sainsbury’s and Asda in a TV interview.

After the clip was broadcast, the businessman apologised for the “unfortunate choice of song” which he said was sung as a way to compose himself.

In her email to staff, seen by the Health Service Journal , Baroness Harding said Mr Coupe’s work would initially be focused on “scaling new testing technologies” and added that he would take over the testing role at the end of October.

“We have been incredibly privileged to be able to 'borrow' Sarah-Jane for the last five months but it will soon be time for her to return to her substantive role as CEO of Birmingham Women's and Children's NHS Foundation Trust,” Baroness Harding said.

“Sarah-Jane has led the team with unparalleled drive, compassion, and humour.”

Ms Marsh’s departure from NHS Test and Trace comes after she issued an apology earlier this month to the thousands of people who had been unable to get a test for Covid-19.

Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s shadow health secretary, criticised the news of Mr Coupe’s appointment, arguing local public health teams should be put in charge of the contact tracing service.

“How about putting those trained in actual infectious disease control in charge of Test & Trace?” Mr Ashworth said.

“Local public health teams should be leading contact tracing. That way we would have an effective Test, Trace and Isolate regime that helps control this virus.”

Additional reporting by PA

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