Ex-Sainsbury’s chief to bring retail nous to Test & Trace

mike coupe1The NHS Test & Trace programme, which has at times appeared more like a Laurel and Hardy film than the “world beating” scheme promised by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, is banking on retail know-how to whack it into shape by recruiting former Sainsbury’s chief executive Mike Coupe to take on a key role.

Coupe retired from Sainsbury’s at the end of May after 15 years, the last six as CEO, and is taking up the role of testing director from Sarah-Jane Marsh, who is returning to her post as chief executive of Birmingham Women’s & Children’s NHS Foundation Trust.

Coupe had joined the retail giant in 2004 as trading director, having had spells at Unilever, Tesco, Dales, Asda and Iceland.

During his tenure, Sainsbury’s boosted its digital and data operations and snapped up Nectar for a “bargain” price of £60m. He was also instrumental in expanding the company through its £1.4bn acquisition of Argos and Habitat in 2016.

Health Service Journal has seen an email about the appointment from Baroness Dido Harding, who was appointed by Health Secretary Matt Hancock to run NHS Test & Trace and is interim executive chair of the National Institute for Health Protection.

She wrote to staff that Coupe has “worked for 35 years in the food retail industry and will bring a wealth of experience in large scale supply chains, logistics and digital transformation”.

“Mike will undertake a period of induction over the next month, working with Sarah-Jane and the team across Testing, initially focused on scaling new testing technologies, and will take over the Testing helm when Sarah-Jane leaves us at the end of October,” she added.

Coupe will certainly have his work cut out.

Last week the DMA warned that take-up of the contact tracing app, which uses an Apple and Google-developed system to keep a private log of people users have been close to, will simply not happen without consumer confidence and trust.

The launch follows months of delays; the first version of the app was trialled on the Isle of Wight in May at a cost of £11m but later abandoned.

DMA chief executive Chris Combemale said: “The NHS app offers a simple user-friendly experience and strives to protect the privacy of the people using it. The key to its success will be trust, which will only come if the UK Government communicates clearly with both the public and the businesses they are visiting.”

It has since emerged that Covid-19 tests taken from surveys by the National Office of Statistics, and those taken via the NHS or Public Health England, cannot be reported on the app. There have been reports that up to half of all tests may not be compatible.

NHS England has yet to officially comment on Coupe’s appointment.

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