Sheffield Test and Trace call centre worker says staff and public ‘treated appallingly’

A Test and Trace call centre employee from Sheffield has spoken out about what they call the ‘highly inappropriate and dysfunctional’ working environment.

By Robert Cumber
Wednesday, 2nd December 2020, 12:14 pm

Sheffield Heeley MP Louise Haigh says the worker, whom she has not named, claims staff and the public alike are being treated ‘appallingly’.

Sensitive conversations with grieving relatives are taking place against a background of laughter and loud music, Ms Haigh revealed, while the performance-based system means call handlers are expected to pull up a new case every 60 seconds and get rewarded for every successful contact, even if that person has been called multiple times before.

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An NHS Test and Trace call centre worker claims staff and members of the public are being treated 'appallingly'' (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images)

In a series of tweets, the Labour frontbencher said: “A local constituent has told me of their experience working in an outsourced Track and Trace call centre.

“They describe a highly inappropriate and dysfunctional working environment, with workers and the public alike being treated appallingly.

"Workers are expected to hold sensitive and emotionally-draining conversations with grieving members of the public while sat next to people making sales calls for other private clients and with laughter and loud music in the background.

“The system is performance based and each successful call is a ‘hit’, regardless of whether the patient has been contacted before.

“As a result, members of the public may be contacted multiple times by different callers.

“In one case, a patient was contacted 17 times over 48 hours – this is recorded as 17 successful contacts.

“Call-handlers are asked to pull up a new case every 60 seconds.

“Some conversations are extremely sensitive, some dealing with vulnerable people, but they’re treated as tick-box exercises.

“Little wonder so few are being successfully reached and even fewer then self-isolating.”

The revelations come just days after it emerged that more than 1,300 people were wrongly told they had coronavirus due to a lab error with Test and Trace.

Figures published last week showed that around four in 10 contacts of those who do test positive for the virus are still not being reached.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced an extra £7 billion to improve Test and Trace as part of his winter plan, taking the total funding provided for the system to £22 billion – nearly a fifth of the entire annual NHS budget.

Asked whether that represented value for money, Mr Johnson admitted there had been ‘teething problems’ but insisted it was of ‘such importance and such value’.

“We have fantastic granular detail which enables us to have this tiering system – this regional, locally focused, tiering system that we have got,” he added.

“And it enables people who have symptoms to get a test and find out whether they have got it or not and thereby take themselves out of circulation.”

Responding to Ms Haigh’s revelations, one person described how his wife had tested positive and they ‘stopped counting the phone calls we had after number 14’.

But, writing on Twitter, another person said: “I had a positive covid swab over the weekend and was contacted by track and trace by sms and email. And had a call this morning from a very pleasant and helpful woman. Thumbs up from my own experience so far.”

The Star has contacted the Department of Health for a comment.