A private firm has fired hundreds of NHS Test and Trace workers despite warnings that the system should remain a vital part of controlling Covid-19.
Outsourcing giant Sitel, and its vast array of subcontractors, last week told swathes of the organisation that their work would stop in just seven days.
Richard from Newcastle, who has worked for Test and Trace since October, is furious.
“We’re the people who’ve held this shambolic system together,” he told Socialist Worker.
“But a manager rang me and everyone from my group last week to read through a script giving us seven days’ notice.
“It made me really angry. Despite the massive failure of technology, we’re the ones who take the time to explain to elderly people that one of their friends or family has caught Covid-19 and that they must now self-isolate.
“And we explain what this means and how to get more help if they need it.
“We’re the ones who talk to the families of the bereaved, and inform their friends that they’ve had contact with someone who got the virus.”
Richard worked in Test and Trace’s “Tier Three”. This means his calls were to people who’d had contact with someone who had tested positive for the virus.
He explained how he helped people being bullied by bosses into breaking isolation and returning to work.
“I’ve talked to people who work with disabled children when their employers have instructed them to return to work, and I’ve spoken to people who work for firms contracted to the NHS in similar circumstances,” he said. “I’ve been able to tell them that their employer is breaking the law and that they need to use the isolation letters sent out or letters from their GPs to tell their managers that they’ve been instructed to self-isolate.
“If the employers don’t budge, I can escalate the case to the local authority, and that could mean legal proceedings.
“I’ve heard horror stories of employers who’ve told people self-isolating not to give us the names of people they work with.
“All in a bid to keep their staff at work.”
Test and Trace staff have shown a massive commitment to a service they regard as vital, explained Richard.
“Lots of us have worked overtime but we’ve been treated so badly,” he said.
“Colleagues regularly go over their contracted hours to try and make the system work.” He added, “A lot of the younger workers have not had much experience of bereavement and yet they’ve had to deal with so very much of it.
“The online training we had on death lasted about five minutes.”
The private firms profiting from Test and Trace have run the system into the ground before.
Now it seems they are ready to take the same risk again.
Dodgy firm awarded contract
A company that was heavily criticised for its handling of another government contract was awarded work on the NHS Test and Trace programme by outsourcer Serco.
HGS UK was awarded the contact tracing role by the outsourcing giant during the early months of the NHS Test and Trace programme.
This was despite concerns that previously arose over its running of the Defence Solicitor Call Centre (DSCC).
But despite the criticism, Serco awarded the firm work conducting contact tracing on behalf of England’s test and trace system.
The PoliticsHome website says that the contract with HGS UK ended in August last year after 6,000 staff were cut.
This followed criticism from some local authorities that the system was not reaching nearly enough contacts.
Since the firm took over the contract in 2019, it has faced repeated criticism, including from the Law Society, which accused it of presiding over a “meltdown”.
Isolation ‘success’ is exaggerated
The test and trace system, riddled with privatisation, has tried to justify its £22 billion budget by claiming credit for anyone who isolates with Covid-19.
The “R number” relates to the growth rate of Covid-19.
Test and Trace chair Dido Harding last week repeated to MPs her claim that test and trace had cut the R number by up to 0.6. She added it was on track to cut it by 0.8 in high prevalence areas.
But it has emerged that the boast is calculated by comparing the service’s impact with what would happen if no one self‑isolated upon detecting symptoms of the virus. Some 90 percent of the service’s claimed cut in transmission comes from people who isolate as soon as they have symptoms.
This is before even coming into contact with the test and trace service.
This Detail was buried in test and trace’s own business plan.
Only the remaining 10 percent comes from those who isolate after being told they have a positive test.
The government’s own Sage committee of scientific advisers warned last October that test and trace was “having a marginal impact on transmission”.
It has urged more support for people to quarantine at home.
Harding was told off by Commons science and technology committee chair Greg Clark last week.
He slammed Harding for failing to publish the full statistical model that she was relying on to make her claims about cutting R