NHS contact tracers say they have hardly any work to do and are filling gaps between calls by watching Netflix and taking up knitting.
Thousands of people were employed to get the system up and running so lockdown could be lifted safely. Workers are paid between £17 and £27 an hour to call people with coronavirus, get a list of their close contacts, then track them down to advise them to self-isolate.
However, some say they get given as little as one call a day, with most calls going straight to voicemail.
One worker, who wanted to be known as Roger, said there was ‘hardly any work to do’ and that he had been watching Netflix to fill the time.
He told LBC: ‘We get maybe one call a day, and then when you do get that call, you phone them up, and no one picks up.’
He said on the rare occasion he does get through to someone, conversations turn hostile when they are told they have to self-isolate.
One man spoke to him perfectly well about his family and contacts, but as soon as he was told he’d have to quarantine for 14 days, he suddenly pretended he couldn’t speak English and hung up the phone.
‘I tried to escalate it and to go to a higher person, but nobody picked up’ he said.
Another worker, named Holly, told LBC she had done 60/70 hours so far, to have had only ‘one call, which went to voicemail.’
She said she has taken up knitting to pass the time on her shifts and spends hours sitting and refreshing the page waiting for a call.
‘I can’t complain about the pay. But I don’t feel like I’m earning it, because I’m not’ she said.
Both workers also complained that on their script of prescribed questions is one about the delayed test and trace app, which currently doesn’t exist.
The revelations come after new figures revealed 30% of people referred to the test and trace system could not be reached between June 11 and 17.
It means that over 2,000 infected people – and thousands of their close contacts – could not be traced last week alone.
Since the system launched on May 28, more than one in four people have not been reached.
More than 128,566 people have been reported as close contacts of those who were reached, but around 13% of these (over 14,000 people) did not answer calls advising them to self-isolate.
A Department for Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘The new NHS Test and Trace service is up and running and is helping save lives.
‘Anyone in this country can now book a test and the majority who book a test get the results back within a day.
‘We have over 27,000 contact tracers in place, who have all been trained and are fully supported in their work by public health experts.
‘The public has taken their civic duty during the pandemic extremely seriously, and we need everyone to continue playing their part.’
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