‘A woman from a big household told me to hurry up as she needed to go to work’: Frontline test and trace worker reveals one mother’s troubling approach to self-isolation
- An NHS caseworker describes how the system continues to face problems
- In the third week they have rarely experienced such monotony and frustration
- They work as an NHS sexual health advisor and used contact tracing since the early 1980s
As the Government scraps the tracing app it spent millions developing, an NHS caseworker describes how the system it was meant to work alongside continues to face problems – and reveals one woman’s troubling approach to self-isolation…
Outside, the sun is shining and I can hear birdsong, the soundtrack of lockdown. But inside my house, I am sitting in silence, staring at a computer screen, willing it to produce a name and phone number so I can spring into action. I click ‘refresh’ – and click and click again – but to no avail, and worry that I’m beginning to develop repetitive strain injury.
This is the third week of working as a clinical contact caseworker on the NHS Test and Trace system and rarely have I experienced such monotony and frustration. But I remain rooted, determined not to miss a name when one pops up.
This is the third week of working as a clinical contact caseworker on the NHS Test and Trace system and rarely have I experienced such monotony and frustration (file photo)
Finding myself absently doing sums in my head, I calculate that I have worked 16 shifts, 96 hours in all at £26 an hour. That’s more than £2,500. And in all that time I’ve spoken to just six people. A troubling ratio by any standard – and hardly a prudent use of public funds.
Working as an NHS sexual health adviser, I have used contact tracing since the early 1980s, during the early days of HIV-AIDS.
Like many others I know who signed up to this, I have the skills to make a difference, yet I’m left with the inescapable conclusion that instead of the ‘world beating’ model promised by the Government, the test and trace system is a great big white elephant.
It is too big, too centralised, too unwieldy. The right hand doesn’t know what the left is doing. The system should have been built around existing local public health services. Still, there’s a long way to go and there is plenty of time to change.
You might think everyone has got the message by now about the importance of self-isolation. I thought so too. But consider this case. I rang a woman who had tested positive and lived in a house of six: five adults and one child, different generations. English wasn’t the woman’s first language so her daughter translated. The daughter lived in the house but hadn’t tested positive.
I went through her mother’s movements, who she might have come into contact with and after a few minutes the daughter said: ‘Can you hurry up with this as I need to get to work?’
After a sharp intake of breath, I told her firmly that she shouldn’t be going anywhere, that she should be self-isolating. I can only hope she followed my advice.
A medical worker takes a swab to test for the novel coronavirus COVID-19 from a visitor to a drive-in testing facility at the Chessington World of Adventures Resort, in Chessington
It made me think that we need a better translation service.
Later on I hear some good news. As I highlighted in The Mail on Sunday two weeks ago, if someone with Covid-19 is too ill to speak, we’re not allowed to ask their wife or husband, say, to go through their contacts on their behalf, presumably because of some mad data protection rule. But now I’m told this rule has been changed. A small victory! We can now talk to family, or even a friend, if the person is in hospital.
What still persists, though, is the problem of people failing to pick up the phone. On countless occasions I have called numbers only for the index case not to answer. I ring back again and again but it’s still the same.
Some people will see an 0300 number come up on their phone and probably think it’s one of those irritating companies asking about PPI and an accident you didn’t have – or a double-glazing salesman.
And another thing: I can’t leave a personal message asking them to call back, only an automated one. It says: ‘Welcome to the NHS Test and Trace Service. We have attempted to call you and will try again shortly. Thank you.’
Just the sort of thing guaranteed to wind people up.