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UK contact tracers describe chaotic training, having no work to do

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  • The rollout of the UK’s coronavirus contact tracing system has been beset by problems, including data breaches, delays and confused trainees. 
  • A contact tracer told The Guardian that a virtual training session had one teacher for around 100 trainees, where “nobody really had any idea” what the job was about. 
  • He passed one shift, at a rate of around $12 per hour, being told to wait for further instructions. None came.
  • Another trainee told the paper that she had been unable to log in for three days.
  • It is unclear if these problems are widespread across the 21,000 contact tracers being trained. The Department for Health and Social Care has issued a blog in response to the claims.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Contact tracers being paid $12 an hour in the UK described a chaotic training process and sitting about doing nothing because they can’t log in, according to The Guardian

The UK is currently training 21,000 contact tracers for an app that has been beset by delays. The government hopes it will help provide an exit route for the nationwide coronavirus lockdown.

However, the project is struggling already, and the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) has admitted that it will not be ready by the promised time of mid-May. 

The contact tracing app is being tested on the Isle of Wight off the south coast of England, home to some 140,000 people. The app notifies people if someone they came into contact with has reported coronavirus symptoms.

If an infection is confirmed, people are instructed to speak to a contact tracer, who is meant to identify people who may be infected and advise them to quarantine.

If the system worked perfectly, it would mean everyone else could live normally, while only those who come into contact with infected people are restricted to quarantine.

The DHSC has contracted several companies to undertake recruitment and training of contact tracers. 

Contact tracers being trained by one company, Sitel, told The Guardian that virtual training sessions were chaotic, and poor preparation for their work.

Sources described online sessions with one trainer for around 100 people, whom many people were unable to hear properly.

Matt Hancock

UK Health Minister Matt Hancock.

DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images


One trainee, who asked to remain anonymous, told the newspaper that he had been hired via a generic-sounding vacancy via a recruitment website, after verifying he had the correct software.

The vacancy was for a “Customer Service Adviser” rather than specifically for a contact tracer.

He told the newspaper: “[The trainer] said at one point, ‘does anybody know what this job is about?’ No one really had any idea.”

“After the full day of training, people were still asking the most basic things,” said the trainee. Nonetheless, his first shift was scheduled for the next day.

He said that trainees were directed to YouTube when they asked what to do if a bereaved person called them.

Upon starting his shift the next day, he was told to wait for further instruction — which did not come for the whole day. He was assured he would still be paid for the day, he said. The rate for contact tracers is £10 an hour, or around $12. 

Another source, also unnamed, told The Guardian that she had not been able to log in to the system for three days. 

NHS contact tracing app 1

The NHS contact tracing app.

NHSX


It is not known how widespread these problems are. An official government response to the story did not deny the claims that the training had been chaotic.

In the post, the department said that contact tracers are recruited through a combination of online assessments and telephone screening, and also have to provide evidence they have the right to work and a clear criminal record.

Any work requiring clinical expertise would only go to those with the right experience, the post said.

“Staff are trained on a vast range of areas,” said the response. It listed “data security; customer service; safeguarding vulnerable children and adults; operating procedures; and when to escalate issues they may spot in their work safeguarding the community among other matters.”

The post said that contact tracers would not be expected to make calls while they are still being trained. “It is not the case that any of them have been expected to start work without appropriate training for the role,” it said.

YouTube advice, said the post, was not part of the training and would be investigated.

The rollout of the UK’s contact tracing process has also been exposed to two embarrassing data breaches. On May 13, plans for the app were left on a publicly-accessible Google Drive.

Additionally, the email addresses of 296 contact tracers were accidentally revealed when another contractor, Serco, sent a single email to the whole group and failed to hide their addresses from one another, the BBC reported

Serco told Business Insider that it has apologized but said it saw no reason to refer itself to the Information Commissioner, the UK watchdog for data protection. 

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