People with suspected Covid-19 are in the hands of NHS 111 call handlers with only 90 minutes training

Tyneside call handlers brought in this week to staff the NHS 111 Covid-19 telephone line have received only about 90 minutes training on a script to follow, when members of the public call 111 for advice about suspected Covid-19 symptoms.

Since the Covid-19 lockdown started, SITEL UK call handlers in Tyneside had been working at home taking calls for one of the companies that uses SITEL UK’s call handling services.

But last week some were instructed to return to work at the SITEL call centre on Monday 5th April, in order to staff the NHS 111 Covid-19 phone line.

Of the 300 or so people SITEL is employing to staff the Tyneside NHS 111 Covid 19 phone line, only about 10% of its workforce were redeployed from other campaigns. The rest are new starts on week-to-week contracts: some rehires, some adults but huge amounts of 16-17 year old college kids who have no college to go to. These poor bairns are getting £5.82 an hour if they’re under 18.

At the end of his first day working on the NHS 111 Coronavirus Helpline, one of the call handlers commented,

“We are giving advice calls to the public, after we were given about 90 minutes training on a script we have to follow that gives 5 possible outcomes.

“Three involve us as the endpoint: no action required, isolation required or isolate sick note provided. The other two are: speak to a nurse or speak to 999.

“I only feel equipped to make the decision in the case of issuing the sick notes. How are we even qualified to give out advice on 111?”

SITEL UK (the UK subsidiary of USA company SITEL) does not recognise any union.

The self-described Tyneside call centre drone added,

“As you’ll all be aware, social distancing, self-isolation & working from home are the current touchstones of our society… well, with an amazing & scarcely credible lack of concern for my future life prospects, I’ve been required to return to the SITEL call centre office (after 7 days of working from home), as I’ve been redeployed to man the NHS 111 Covid-19 telephone line, becoming a key worker in the process…

“I did not want this as it makes my prospects of death considerably higher than before.

“Despite employees’ rights to safe working conditions, my employer refuses to make any reasonable adjustments by allowing us to work from home.

“We’ve got no union recognition at our place, so they treat us like laboratory rats – it seems my only choice is to go sick & take my employer to a tribunal to sue them for failing to comply with Covid-19 social distancing requirements.”

United demand for safe working conditions during the Covid-19 pandemic

The Community and Public Sector trade union is supporting SITEL call handlers in their demand for safe working conditions during the Covid19 pandemic.

Local councils’ Environmental Health and Trading Standards departments are responsible for enforcing government rules about social distancing and infection control for key workers who are still going into work.

And the Health and Safety Executive together with the Confederation of British Industry and Trades Union Congress have just warned in a joint statement that if employers do not comply with the latest Public Health England guidance, they face being hit with enforcement notices and potential closure.

Their joint appeal encourages workers to raise any concerns about working conditions first with their employer or trade union. It notes that if concerns can’t be resolved locally, workers can approach the Health and Safety Executive or their local authority for help.

It also seems that Covid19 infections at work come under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurences Regs

Many NHS 111 Covid-19 Call handling job ads

There are currently lots of NHS111 call handling job vacancies, paying around £10/hour.

NHS 111 Clinical Advisers field calls transferred by call handlers, when the script directs them to the decision that the caller needs to speak to a nurse.

The Clinical Advisers are paid the princely sum of £15.09/hour. This for qualified nurses or paramedics with current registration and at least 2 years post-registration experience in a relevant health care setting or specialities.

SITEL UK faces allegations of breaching Covid-19 safety rules in other cities too

In Plymouth, SITEL UK staff handling calls for NHS 111 are apparently being made to work “desk to desk”. Local MP Luke Pollard has reported his “urgent concerns” to Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.

An employee at one of Sitel’s two sites in Stratford-upon-Avon said there were no gloves, masks or wipes left, just disinfectant and kitchen roll for an office of about 60 seats, with callhandlers seated within arm’s reach of one another. Despite the conditions, staff were coming in to work because they needed the money.

How did SITEL UK get the contract for NHS111 callhandling?

In Tyneside, North East Ambulance Service has the £55m 5 year NHS 111 contract, that started in 2018.

They must have subcontracted the call handling to SITEL UK?

SITEL UK is in Tyneside thanks to support from Invest North Tyneside – a North Tyneside Council scheme to encourage inward investment in the area.

The company is based in the Quorum Business Park in Newcastle, where there are many call centres.

One comment

  1. Wirral CCG ‘sold’ walk-in centre closures to councillors 18 months ago on various bases, including an improved NHS 111 service. Hollow laughter then; more now.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.