'I've had no cases': Contact tracer reveals chaotic scenes behind government's COVID-19 tracking scheme

James Morris
Senior news reporter, Yahoo News UK
The NHS Test and Trace scheme has got off to a difficult start, amid reports of technical issues and a lack of work for tracers. (@10DowningStreet/Twitter)

A contact tracer has said there is not enough work for the 25,000 staff recruited by the government for its new coronavirus tracing system.

The tracer, who did not want to be named, told Yahoo News UK she was given zero cases to deal with during her four-hour shift on Friday.

The worker, who is being paid nearly £20 an hour, said she was told by a helpline official “that they have recruited all these people, but there’s not enough work for them to do”.

NHS Test and Trace launched on Thursday to reports of major technical issues, with many tracers not even given a login.

Under the system, phone operatives are told to call people who have tested positive for COVID-19 and ask who they have had contact with. These people are subsequently called and, if necessary, instructed to self-isolate to restrict the spread of the virus.

But the tracer told this website that she was instead sat at her computer for four hours with no one to call.

“I had no cases. I spoke to the helpline and they said there’s not enough work.

“They’ve recruited 25,000 people. I don’t know how many more of me there are, sitting and waiting.

“I asked the helpline. I was told it’s very quiet and that they have recruited all these people, but there’s not enough work for them to do.

“They said until we get the app, there won’t really be enough work.”

This app is supposed to accompany Test and Trace, but its rollout has been delayed. It is currently being trialled in the Isle of Wight.

The tracer, who also had no work to do on Thursday as she was unable to log in to the system, added she has no team leader and was simply told to review her training scripts during her shift on Friday.

Read more: Five ways easing of coronavirus lockdown will affect you

Of the coming days, she said: “I have booked four weeks of shifts ahead. There are still hundreds of shifts they keep putting onto the bank for contact tracers.

“If I was unscrupulous I could just book myself in every day of the week and be paid [for doing nothing]… and there is no work.”

A Department of Health source insisted “volume will pick up”, adding: “We have rolled it out at great pace from absolute zero. We are in quite a good place with it.”

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Friday morning, environment secretary George Eustice insisted “calls were definitely made” by tracers in the first 24 hours of operation.

However, asked how many cases were dealt with on Thursday, he would only say: “I don’t know how many cases were dealt with yesterday. I’m aware though that calls were made.”

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