Covid-19 contact tracers report taking just a handful of calls per month

5 August 2020, 13:35

By Megan White

Some contact tracers working for the NHS Test and Trace programme in England are making just a handful of calls a month, with one caller telling LBC their wife had made just two since May.

Adam, from Bury, told James O’Brien that his wife was working as a contact tracer and had made just two calls since May – one of which did not answer and the other hung up after ten seconds.

He told LBC: “Each morning she logs on the laptop bang on 8 o’clock, and then it’s breakfast, then perhaps brunch, then she’ll check it again, but ultimately, if you imagine an Excel document that is blank, and each cell, in theory, should have a name and number to ring.

“She’s been doing it since about May, which is salaried by the way, so it’s great for the household.

“She’s made two calls. One didn’t answer, and one got about ten seconds in and hung up.”

Shockingly, the caller even said his wife has been asked to work overtime this week, despite the low workload.

Shoppers walk past a screen on a bus stop displaying a NHS notice on test and trace on Oxford Street, London
Shoppers walk past a screen on a bus stop displaying a NHS notice on test and trace on Oxford Street, London. Picture: PA

One test and trace caller told The Guardian they had made just a few calls in two months of work and another said they had been working for two and a half months and made just four calls.

She said she had seen a spreadsheet showing around 15 calls a day were being made by a team of more than 55 people.

One contact tracer told the newspaper: "We could easily make 30 calls a day. I've worked hundreds of hours and only made a handful of calls, and all of them have gone to voicemail.

"It's been very frustrating, and I'm grappling with my own morals because I'm wasting so much (public) money.

"They keep telling us next week it's going to get more busy, and at first you believe that, but over time reality sets in that I may never make a real call, and I'll be paid thousands of pounds by the Government. That's deeply frustrating if you want to help.

Separate data seen by the newspaper show that 471 agents made just 135 calls in two days.

But the Department of Health and Social Care said that it is right there is capacity in the system to ensure those who test positive and their contacts get the attention and support they need.

A spokesperson said: "In just eight weeks, NHS Test and Trace has tested more than 2.6 million people for coronavirus and contacted more than 218,000 people who have tested positive for the virus, or recently been in contact with someone who has tested positive - in order to break the chain of transmission.

"We have over 27,000 contact tracers in place to undertake this vital work and anyone with symptoms should book a test."

It comes after the local authority with the highest Covid-19 infection rate in England has set up its own contact tracing system.

Staff from Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council will use their local knowledge to help find people who have come into contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus.

NHS Test and Trace, which is run by Serco and Sitel through a contract reported to be worth up to £108 million, has faced questions about performance and value for money.

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Last month, health expert Professor Sir Chris Ham wrote an opinion piece in the British Medical Journal urging the Government to give local leaders control over the service.

Sir Chris said most people who had been in contact with those confirmed to have the virus were being traced by regional teams from Public Health England and local health protection staff, adding that there were "serious questions about the value for money" of the national telephone based service.

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