Contact tracers report ‘chaotic’ training and confusion about role


Staff hired to contact people who may have been exposed to the coronavirus have complained that they were left ‘completely and utterly confused’ about their role after attending ‘chaotic’ remote training sessions.

Newly recruited “contact tracers”, who have been hired by outsourced call centre giants Serco and Sitel on behalf of the Department of Health and Social Care, have reported spending hours trying to log into online systems, having no work to do, and experiencing technical and quality issues with the training they received.

Some also complained they thought they were applying for a customer services role and only found out they would be involved in contact tracing when they took part in the introductory training session.

On Monday, health secretary Matt Hancock said 21,000 contact tracers had been recruited – surpassing the government’s initial 18,000 target.

The staff will be required to contact individuals who have tested positive for Covid-19 to establish who they may have come into contact with and notify individuals who may need to self-isolate.

However, some new recruits told The Times that the onboarding process had been “chaotic”.

One man said he logged into a Sitel-run training session to find that the customer services role he had applied for was actually a contract tracer position. He said several people left the call when they discovered this.

He said: “There was a lot of confusion on the call. People were asking ‘Why are we here? What have we all been employed for?’ We all thought we had signed up for a customer-service role and contact tracing isn’t customer service.”

Contact tracers were also required to use their own computers and USB headsets to take calls from home, it reported.

The man said workers had been scheduled into shifts despite having no work to do at this stage, and were required to click the screen every few minutes to show they were online.

Staff also reported problems accessing training videos, including one with England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty.

Another worker said: “The frustration is that [the government] had two to three months to plan for this since South Korea proved that [contact tracing] is so effective, so this shouldn’t be being thrown together last week.”

According to the Guardian, workers were told to rely on a two-page script and a list of frequently asked questions when speaking with those who had tested positive for, or who had potentially been exposed to, Covid-19.

One individual told the Guardian that they had asked the Sitel trainer for guidance on how to speak with somebody whose loved one had died of coronavirus, and were told to look at YouTube videos on the topic.

The Department of Health and Social Care, Serco and Sitel have been approached for comment.

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