Test-and-trace centre staff with outbreak ‘lax’ about social distancing, says worker with Covid-19

Sitel operates an NHS Test and Trace call centre in North Lanarkshire with a Covid-19 outbreak - PA
Sitel operates an NHS Test and Trace call centre in North Lanarkshire with a Covid-19 outbreak – PA

A young woman who has tested positive for coronavirus after working at a Scottish test-and-trace centre hit by an outbreak has disclosed how her colleagues breached social distancing rules.

The 19-year-old started working at the Sitel call centre at Eurocentral business park near Bellshill, North Lanarkshire only days before lockdown and has now tested positive.

An “urgent” investigation has been launched and the office closed after six cases were reported on Sunday. It conducted contact tracing for NHS England.

But the teenage whistleblower said workers did not always follow guidance on social distancing and she thought staff on the Test and Trace team were more “lax” about following Covid-19 regulations.

Speaking anonymously, she said there were “a lot” of precautions put in place by management but a lack of seating in communal areas meant staff often sat together during breaks.

Her intervention came as Scottish Labour said staff had raised concerns as far back as March, at the start of lockdown, about working conditions including a lack of social distancing and personal protective equipment.

Monica Lennon, Scottish Labour’s health spokesman, said bosses were “not accommodating of home working” and staff who approached her were “scared and worried they’d lose their jobs if they questioned the company.”

John Swinney, Scotland’s Deputy First Minister, said hitting the company with financial penalties “will be explored” if its is found official guidance was not followed.

He said investigators would examine whether call centre staff could have worked from home and if “all of the procedures and processes that should be in place in the undertaking of essential work of this kind were being undertaken.”

“Obviously if there has been transmission within the building facility, then something has gone wrong in the way in which the rules have been applied, the guidance has been followed,” he added.

Mr Swinney told the BBC that the outbreak was discovered at 8am on Sunday and since then a number of contacts of the people who tested positive have been identified.

John Swinney, the Deputy First Minister - Getty Images Europe
John Swinney, the Deputy First Minister – Getty Images Europe

The 19-year-old employee said that desks in the call centre are separated, there is a one-way system and “hand sanitiser everywhere.”

But in communal areas she said “there are not enough seats so people are bumping in together.” She added: “They do put the things in place, it’s just the workers aren’t enforcing them.”

The whistleblower said: “Down in the track and trace they are getting one to two calls a day, so they are sitting doing nothing, they are sitting playing games with each other just to keep the time going.

“The rules are more lax down there and that’s why we think it has obviously come from there.” She said she suffered from asthma but the virus has not affected her so far.

Richard Leonard, the Scottish Labour leader, published a letter he wrote to Sitel on Mar 27 expressing concerns about allegations of a lack of protections for its staff working at the same site on behalf of Virgin Media.

A Sitel spokesman said the company was “urgently investigating” the outbreak with NHS Lanarkshire.

He said: “We take the safety and wellbeing of our staff very seriously. Everyone who has been working at the site we have requested that they book and complete a test within the next 24 hours.

“The site has been deep cleaned and all social distancing guidelines have been followed.”

Dr David Cromie, NHS Lanarkshire consultant in public health medicine, confirmed the board was investigating the situation and measures have been put in place to reduce risk.

A spokeswoman for NHS Test and Trace said everyone at the site is currently working from home while a deep clean takes place.